Thursday, August 28, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers and the U.S. Navy Work Together to Provide Care

An Inspiring Story from the USNS Mercy

While the USNS Mercy has been in Papua New Guinea the Project HOPE volunteer health care providers have seen thousands of patients, most in need of the basic of health care. However, the volunteers also see patients whose health has been ailing for many years but they haven’t had any means of getting treatment. An example of such a patient was Mary.
About 5 years ago, 44 year old Mary noticed a small nodule near the nipple of her left breast. Because she and her family had no financial resources and extremely limited medical options, she stoically watched as the nodule grew and grew. Her breast became heavy and enlarged to at least the size of a cantaloupe. The skin became eroded and began to bleed. The resultant anemia left her little strength to care for her family, including her husband and four children. She never saw a doctor because she felt that she could never receive treatment.
Recently however, she finally did seek medical attention at a local hospital. The doctors there told her that the USNS Mercy was due to arrive in port shortly, and that she should see if the doctors on board could help her. She was seen in surgical screening clinic and was referred to the ship for admittance the next day. She was evaluated and other than having a blood count of 22 (normal being from 35 to 48), she was found to be in reasonably good health and able to tolerate surgery. She and her husband, who had come on board to assist with her care, agreed for her to undergo a mastectomy which was performed after several units of blood were transfused. Led by Project Hope surgeon Ivan Shulman, along with Indian Naval surgeon Amitabh Mohan and US Naval Hospital – San Diego surgical resident Matthew Tadlock operated together to safely remove her breast which weighed 1.5 kg in an uncomplicated and timely surgery. Her post-operative recovery has been dramatic and today she feels full of hope, literally with a lightness that she has not experienced for many years.
When asked if she was afraid or scared of what was going to happen to her, she simply smiled, took her surgeon’s hand, looked directly into his eyes, and said “No, I wasn’t.”

***First name of the patient has been changed and last name omitted to protect the patient’s privacy.

Special thanks to our Special Projects Team for sharing this story with us.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Note from a Project HOPE Volunteer on the USNS Mercy

Below is an email I received from a Project HOPE volunteer Faye Pyles. Here she gives a little insight into life aboard the USNS Mercy. -Marisol

Well it is our Monday. We are underway to Micronesia, tomorrow we cross the equator. We will be there in two more days, or so. So far the seas have not been bad, a little rolling but not significant. During the night it kicked up a little but not enough to make anyone ill, or at least not in my room. So, so far so good.

The mission to PNG finished with a little bang. We were quite busy the last day with small areas that were very needy. I went on a mission 45 minutes inland and got to see some of the countryside. It was more what I expected, palm trees, forest, mountains and small shacks and huts. We ended up on the coast with a beautiful beach.

Life on the Mercy is fine; I share a stateroom with four other PH staff and the Morale Welfare and Recreation coordinator. The staff is for the most part also good. Lots of reservist who are nice to work with, the partner nations (Aussies, New Zealand, India, Korea, Canada, Chile) are all interesting to talk with about their specialties and experiences.

Not much else, we are now finding things to do to occupy our time, it was trivial pursuit last night, and Pictionary is on for tonight. There are movies on the hanger deck tomorrow. The Mercy now travels with a helicopter detachment of two helos and crew. I am told some of us will be traveling by helo to the medical areas that we will visit in Micronesia, should be interesting.Well time to go to a steel beach cookout. The officers are cooking on the flight deck and there will be basketball and other games on the deck, the band was setting up earlier, should be a nice diversion.

Faye Pyles is a Project HOPE volunteer on the USNS Mercy currently on a humanitarian mission in Southeast Asia. This is Pyles second volunteer mission with Project HOPE. She previously participated in Africa Partnership Station in Ghana and Liberia. Faye is retired U.S. Navy Captain and a pediatric nurse practitioner from Norfolk, VA.

Faye sees one of her little patients at
JFK Hospital in Liberia in March

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Take Care of Children on USNS Mercy

Diane Speranza, a nurse from Florida, recently returned from her third volunteer mission for Project HOPE, serving on the USNS Mercy as a medical surgical nurse. Here are a few excerpts from her emails while on her most recent mission in Timor Leste. --Melanie

We have been busy on the pediatrics 7 already and 7 more to go!! I am getting tired. Doing 14 days in a row of 12 plus hours a day is tough. But there is an end in sight!

We have seen a lot of hydrocephalic kids. Unfortunately we can not do any surgery on them as we do not have the capability on the ship. So all we do is CT's. It gives them a chance to spend a night or 2 on the ship, get some good food for themselves, sleep on a bed rather than floor or hammock, get their child some formula, pampers, toys and clothes. They all leave smiling and happy even if we could not' fix' their child. This goes for all the ones that we bring on the ship. I am amazed at how they all clean their plates at every meal except for Brussels sprouts. I have never seen chicken bones so cleaned off. It is sad to think that they don't have much money and there for not much food. They are all so skinny and short. I am so glad that I sent a head of time boxes of baby and kids clothes. I try to give everyone an outfit, as they seem to have nothing. When I give it to them they immediately put it on their baby or child.

I will try to describe how the process works here. Patients are screened on shore at the MedDenCaps (medical,dental civil action program) the clinics that we set up where they are seen for their problems. If those assigned to go ashore feel there is something we can do for them IE: surgery or diagnostics or PT etc then they get a hold of the ship and see if there is a bed, OR time and a physician able to take the patient Once given the ok they get them to the ship via boat or helo(copter). Each patient is allowed an escort to come with them. If it is a child both parents can come and sometimes it means bringing another of their children with them. Most families here have 6 or more kids and are young mothers......teens. So we try to encourage one parent to stay home.

We have 22 beds on each ward plus we put up cots if needed. There are the same number on top of the ones we use but because they are so high and you would need a ladder to get up we do not use them. If the children are small the escort usually sleeps with them. Otherwise we put a cot up or mattress on the floor next to them. The beds or 'racks' as they call them are only about 12 inches off the floor. That with the fact that they are very close together makes it hard to work on the patients. You either have to bend over, not good on the back or get on your knees.

The patients are usually admitted the day before their surgery and usually go home one or 2 days after depending on the type of procedure they had done. The children all get 'de-wormed' most all have worms and by doing this it gives them a few months of good nutrition. The shift I have is 0630 to 1900 but we always end up staying later. So when I get up it is dark and when I get done it is dark. When the patients are discharged they get copies of all their records, CT's etc. so that if they do get to follow up with a doctor or clinic they can pass them on.

The E. Timor people are very poor and we forget that all the comforts we are used to they have never heard of and it is all new to them. For example: All are amazed at TV, we play DVD's for them all the time. Even the parents love the children’s movies...Shrek, Little Mermaid, Indiana Jones etc. I asked a translator once if the child wanted apple or grape juice and he said it doesn't matter they have never had it! When they come in we hand out toys usually stuffed animals which they seem to know what to do with them. But we have to explain and show them what to do with coloring books and crayons. It is touching to watch all the adults sit on the beds and color. In fact I think they seem to enjoy it more than the kids.
Some come with their own food, not knowing that we will feed them. They either wear Flip Flops or come barefoot. We have a playroom set up for the kids (adults have just as much fun) but you have to show them how a lot of them work. Everyone loves to have their picture taken and then you show them in the camera after and they all just giggle. Wish there was more I could do for them.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Early mornings, dire needs and other notes from Project HOPE Volunteers on the USNS Mercy

It's 4:49 P.M. on Thursday on the east coast of the U.S. mean while it is Friday, 6:49 A.M. across the globe in Papau New Guinea and after sleeping in confined quarters aboard the USNS Mercy(we are taking bunked beds on a ship that could rock quite a bit, how many adults do you know would volunteer to sleep in a bunk bed for a month or two?) Project HOPE volunteers and their Navy counterparts are begining a new day of providing HOPE and healing to the local community. A HOPE volunteers day may begin early but it doesn't end early--the crew on the ship's day can usually go into the evening hours.

As the day begins volunteers will report to stations either working in the medical rooms aboard the ship or on shore at a local hospital. The folks who are taken ashore are shuttled there aboard a helicopter or boat. When they arrive at the hospital they are will be greeted by hundreds of people already waiting in line since about 2:30 A.M. A continous flow of people will come through the stations to be screened, vaccinated, and get other health care needs taken care of. Those who are in need of surgery, and can be helped by surgery, are then shuttled back to hospital ship.

There is a constant movement with upwards of 2,000 patients seen daily, many who are in need of the most basic health care we take for granted. The team is also providing another key component to these missions, education and training to local health care workers. Project HOPE believes in providing sustainable advances in health care. This means educating and training those can help their communities and encouring them to continue to teach others. The students who attend these training courses are like sponges, soaking up all the they can get because many of them don't have access to training and new techniques. In the U.S. we have continuing medical education, were health care professionals can stay on top of the newest advances in medicine. This is not the case in other parts of the world.

Even though the conditions for such missions can be very demanding many of these Project HOPE volunteers continue to volunteer time after time. They know it's hard work but also very rewarding. It is truly a humbling and inspiring experience.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Teaching and Listening in Papua New Guinea

Jan, a Project HOPE volunteer nurse from Dallas, TX, sent me an email yesterday with a wonderful story about teaching nurses in Papua New Guinea and the common stresses nurses across the world share. The story is below--enjoy!


What a great privilege to participate in an educational exchange with the nursing staff at The Port Moresby General Hospital in Papua New Guinea. After being at sea for eight days I was ecstatic to learn that I would be setting my feet on solid ground, if only for a few hours. As the two U.S. Navy nurses and I arrived in the tiny open classroom, around nine in the morning, there were already five nurses that stayed over from the night shift eagerly waiting to hear what we had to say. Soon others joined, ranging from nursing students to very experienced nurses, representing a wide variety of specialties. By the looks of the crowds waiting outside the hospital gate to be seen in the emergency room alone when we arrived, I was not surprised to learn that most of our audience was cross trained to function in multiple areas of the hospital. What followed in that modest classroom will forever elicit fond memories of my new friends and colleagues in Papua New Guinea.

I have taught continuing education courses for nursing staff in the hospital where I work in Dallas, Texas, as well as formal nursing courses in the university. In stark contrast, I have never seen such enthusiasm for learning as I witnessed that morning. Every participant listened with intensity to lectures covering topics from patient assessment to triage during disasters. The hour that we were scheduled to speak soon turned into three as we began to talk about a common bond that nurses all over the world share—work related stress. Most nurses in the U.S. prefer to label this phenomenon as "overworked and underpaid." As almost all of the twenty or so nurses eagerly shared their personal work experiences, especially those related to patient deaths, the three of us soon realized that we were in a full blown critical stress debriefing session. Coping with the severity of nursing shortages, lack of equipment, supplies, and other resources in Papua New Guinea is beyond imagination to the average nurse at home. Even though we facilitated the discussion by offering healthy ways to deal with stress, I sensed that simply listening and validating their concerns was worth so much more. The session may have continued for hours had the charge nurse not reminded the staff that they must return to work.

Prior to departing back to the comfort of my temporary home on the USNS Mercy, a staff nurse by the name of Rose offered me a cup of tea. For a few moments we engaged in livelier talk of the effects of chewing beetle nut, a Papua New Guinea equivalent of a double shot espresso from Starbucks. Then she briefly disappeared, returning with something tucked under her arm. She proudly handed me a small shoulder strap bag made from a fibrous straw material with a distinct design. She went on to explain that this bag was not made in a factory, rather by hand, and the design was unique to her village only. How humbling that someone with so little was so willing to give what I suspect was her personal possession to a stranger. I did not find a beetle nut inside as I had hoped, but this simple gesture, along with warm smiles and hugs from my nursing colleagues in Papua New Guinea will be an experience I will forever cherish.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers hard at work in Southeast Asia

These are photos of our volunteers hard at work in Southeast Asia aboard the USNS Mercy.

Update: HOPE Volunteers Across the Globe

So far 2008 has been a very busy year for Project HOPE volunteers. Volunteers are an invaluable resource at Project HOPE. These folks donate their time and leave the comforts of their homes to work in places most people can't point to on a map working long hours under some of the most extreme heat conditions. They are flexible and handle any challenges that may come their way while on these missions with a smile on their faces. Below is a run down of the 2008 missions.

March-April - Project HOPE volunteers visited the West African countries of Ghana and Liberia as part of Africa Partnership Station. There they worked side-by-side West African health care providers seeing patients and also providing them with midwifery, emergency and basic health care education.

May-June- Project HOPE volunteers set off aboard the USS Boxer to deliver health care and health professional education to the communities along the western coasts of Latin America. Mission Continuing Promise '08 visited Guatemala, El Salvador, and Peru over 60 days.

June-September- Volunteers joined the crew of the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Mercy in Southeast Asia in June. The Pacific Partnership '08 mission is currently underway and has already stopped in Vietnam and Timor Leste providing health care and health professional education to communities in need. Pacific Partnership is now in Papua New Guinea and will then head to Micronesia before Project HOPE volunteers return home in September.

August-November- HOPE volunteers are now aboard the USS Kearsarge for a four month mission along the east coast Latin America (second half of Continuing Promise '08). These wonderful health care providers will be visiting the countries of Nicaragua, Panama, and Guyana.

A sincere thank you to all those Project HOPE volunteers past and present.

-Marisol Euceda

Monday, August 4, 2008

Someone recently sent me a link to a relatively new social networking site I hadn't heard of it before so I decided to check it out. Project HOPE already has a Myspace page and a Facebook page and as new websites come along I hope to add Project HOPE to them. SocialVibe is a social media site that connects people to specific brands to raise money and awareness of the social causes they care about. Members select a charity or cause they care about and get sponsored brands to support them by adding a tag to their Myspace, Facebook and any other social site page.

It sounds like a good idea so I have signed Project HOPE up. However, for us to be added to general cause category and begin earning donations we need to invite 200 more people to join us on SocialVibe. To receive our charity page and receive direct donations from supporters we need to have 500 successful invites.

So here I am asking our blog readers out there to join us on It's for a good cause and really simple. Just click on the link below!

Project HOPE invites you to
--Marisol Euceda