Saturday, July 31, 2010

Midwife Works to Improve Maternal Care in Haiti

Carine Richard, a certified nurse midwife of St. Joseph Hospital in Reading, PA, is every bit a Haitian: confident, emotive and tell-it-like-it-is. The Haitian-American Project HOPE volunteer grew up in the Petionville neighborhood of Port au Prince, Haiti, leaving with her family when she was 12-years-old to move to New York city. But her assertive and sunny bedside manner has made her a favorite for those she works with at the outlying clinics run by the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti.

Duties during her three-week rotation have included not only training nurses and auxiliaries in safe deliveries, but teaching them more advanced techniques and reviewing basic skills to fill knowledge gaps.

“When midwives in this area do deliveries at home, they don’t do episiotomies,” says Richard, who describes discovering a massive vaginal tear in a woman during a routine check-up three days after she had given birth. Richard performed the procedure with no surgical lights. “It was an experience.” She adds, “If anyone thinks they are coming down here as a midwife strictly to deliver babies, they have to think again.”

“There is a midwife program thanks to Project HOPE, says Ian Rawson, managing director of the hospital. “ As midwives age out and there is no one take their places, we have had to search for alternatives.” The hospital had been seeking nurse midwives to train the staff in their clinics to regularly deliver babies and administer prenatal and follow up care. Project HOPE stepped up to the plate, providing a steady stream of midwives to the hospital over the past few months.

“There is a big need,” explains Richard. “For the past two weeks I saw a lot of premature babies, very underweight term babies. If we can get the nurses or midwives to be able to assess the condition of the mother and baby before birth we can reduce much of this and the maternal mortality rate.”

She describes teaching some of the clinic staff how to use a basic delivery date diagnostic chart, which many had never seen. “A woman walked into the clinic—32 weeks pregnant—and told the staff that she was two months pregnant, and the staff proceeded as if this was the case,” says Richard. ‘If you haven’t learned to calculate a delivery date in school, how can you accurately predict the correct birth date? If we really want to decrease the rate of mortality and morbidity we need to teach these people.”

Despite her busy daily workload, there have been rewards for Richard. Recently, a baby that she helped to deliver was named after her. And she has seen progress in her patients. “I’ve always encouraged human touch,” says Richard, who tells of fathers-to-be so unsure of their role in a birth that they have told staff that they were a sibling of the laboring woman in order to avoid being in the delivery area. “Now you can sometimes see men massaging their partners during the process.”

She starts a new job as a nurse midwife at a hospital near Lancaster, PA, in November. “But if I’d known how much I was going to love what I’m doing for HAS, I would have looked for a more flexible position so that I could do more rotations here!”

“I felt like I was in a dream before-- like I was not alive. Now I’m alive. I can’t imagine going back to the US and not thinking about this place—not doing more.”

She adds, “It’s not only prenatal care, I want to help my country.”

Story and photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Friday, July 30, 2010

Project HOPE staff visit programs and strengthen partnerships in Haiti

Port au Prince, Haiti
A special delegation of Project HOPE staff and industry leaders hit the ground today in Port-au-Prince for a five-day mission to assess programs and strengthen partnerships.

The group, led by Project HOPE President Dr. John P. Howe III, visited two hospitals within Port-au-Prince on Wednesday and has an agenda that will involve a cross-country traverse to take in Project HOPE programs throughout the central and northern reaches of Haiti.

Project HOPE staff Dr. Howe, Fred Gerber, Operations Officer, and Patricia Bacuros, GIK Director, traveled with Lori Warrens, Partnership for Quality Medical Donations (PQMD) Executive Director, Hiliary Critchley, Senior Policy Advisor for Dr. S. Ward Casscells.

Warrens, whose organization, PQMD, partners non-profit organizations with companies seeking to donate medical products, is excited to learn more about Project HOPE—a member of PQMD—and plan for future work in Haiti. Chritchley, who has made two previous trips to Haiti on similar missions, will be seeking partnering opportunities as well.

The traveling delegation joined up with Colin Credle, Project HOPE Regional Humanitarian Assistance GIK, and the newly minted Project HOPE Haiti staff: Charles Prosper, Project HOPE Country Director for Haiti, Dr. Mephisto Mathurin, Project HOPE Humanitarian Aid Manager in Haiti, Ritza Marcelin, Project HOPE secretary in Haiti, and Nathalie Charleus, Project HOPE volunteer coordinator in Haiti.

Prosper summed up the group’s challenge for the trip with this goal: to tell a story of Haiti that has never been told before. With a surprise behind-the-scenes tour organized by Prosper of the earthquake-ravaged national palace ending the long day (which began at 4am for most of the crew), one can’t help but believe that with leadership like his, this daunting goal might actually be attainable.

Story and photos by photojournalist and HOPE volunteer, Allison Shelley.

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti. DONATE NOW

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Volunteers Begin Continuing Promise 2010

While Project HOPE volunteers in Indonesia continue their work aboard the USNS Mercy as part of the Pacific Partnership 2010, another set of HOPE volunteers are beginning a four-month mission of health care, education and humanitarian assistance on the other side of the world. Fourteen HOPE volunteers boarded the USS Iwo Jima in Miami, part of Continuing Promise 2010, and are heading to Haiti, the first leg of the eight county tour. As the ship is under sail, volunteers are busy learning Navy protocol, ship safety procedure, and what to expect when the ship drops anchor in Haiti. Eric Campbell, Project HOPE's volunteer Public Affairs Officer onboard offers this account:

Standing on the prow of the Iwo Jima in the open sea gives one the feeling of being a fly on the tip of a paper fan manipulated by an old lady in a sweltering Southern church. The flat deck of the ship moves up and down lazily with the trough and crest of each wave.

Below decks the effect is even more surreal, because of the fact that humans are used to perceiving movement visually. But now we have only our inner ears and the sense of fluctuating gravity to tell us of the ship’s progress through the waves.

A serene sunrise turned to drizzle, with a brief squall in the early afternoon. By the time the rain had cleared, we were well within sight of Cuba’s rugged coast.

All HOPE team members also had to complete helicopter safety training today. The principles are pretty simple: life vest, helmet, ear protection, and goggles on, secure anything in your pockets, sit down, strap in, and don’t do anything stupid. Watch your head on the way out of the aircraft.

After dinner we had a briefing on the states of the specific sites in which we’ll be giving aid. The two sites on the northern peninsula where we’ll be stationed were spared much of the earthquake damage, but were inundated by an unknown number of refugees fleeing the wreckage. Overcrowding and disease present major problems. Tomorrow we’ll have a large rehearsal-style airlift to prepare for the next day, which is when team members will finally go ashore in Saint Louis de Nord, Haiti.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Ah, Club Med: exotic locations, sparkling ocean water, comfy beds, and all meals and drinks included. Nothing against hedonistic pleasures, most of us have done our share of beach time. But here on the USNS Mercy? The hot ticket is to Club MEDCAP.

We pause here for yet another acronym debriefing A MEDCAP is a Medical Civil Action Program, and in straight talk, that means that lots of medical providers camp out for a day, three days, or in some cases, a week in one place and set up shop. Then hundreds or thousands of people show up, because for many of them, it’s the equivalent of the Mayo Clinic coming to town.

While anchored near Ternate, six Project HOPE volunteers participated in two different MEDCAPs. Three worked a 5-day MEDCAP in Moratai: Dawn Horowitz, Brian Cox and April Krantz. Alan Jamison, Vanessa Doorasamy and Randy Roark did a 7-day encampment in Jailolo.

All six volunteers worked at a pace unheard of in most American settings, many seeing more than one hundred patients a day. It seems impossible, but when people have waited hours or days to see a doctor you just do what you have to do. At the end of the day, our volunteer doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are beat, and ready to check into Club MEDCAP.

Chow at the Club? A dizzying array of choices, if you don’t mind your food entombed in plastic, and brown cardboard. MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat are available three times a day. Meat loaf for breakfast, anyone? Military intelligence has designed nifty little heaters for the food that are activated by just a few ounces of water, but a lot of people just dive into the candy, crackers, cheese whiz and peanut butter that require no technology. Did you know that there is an iPhone app to let diners know which treats are included in each MRE?

(In full disclosure, it is true that local food is often foraged, and there are more hits than misses there.) After dinner, and maybe a rousing game of gin, our intrepid volunteers are ready to turn in. To get a feel for the accommodations, remember the worst pullout couch you ever slept on. Imagine it one-third the width, and without a mattress. The middle support bar that will press against your spine remains. Then cut some bamboo poles to stretch the mosquito over it. Add a sheet and you are good to go until the cock crows.

We’ll spare you the details of la toilette. Let’s just say there are no six-jet showers, and a bucket of water is provided for flushing.

Our volunteers come home (did I just call a Navy ship ‘home’?) and their rack in berthing suddenly looks like a suite at the Waldorf. They are grizzled, gritty and ready for a long, hot shower. But they are beaming from the experience, and all they want to know is, “Am I scheduled for the next MEDCAP?”

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meet the Project HOPE Volunteers in Haiti and Colombia

As Project HOPE volunteers continue their mission in Indonesia aboard the USNS Mercy, another group of volunteers is partnering with the U.S. Navy to provide health care and education to people on the opposite side of the world, in eight counties in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Participating in Continuing Promise 2010, HOPE volunteers are currently working aboard the USS Iwo Jima and ashore in Haiti and Colombia during their one-month mission. Three more rotations of HOPE volunteers will serve Continuing Promise 2010 alongside their Navy counterparts as the ship continues through Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama and Suriname.

Since partnering with the U.S. Navy in early 2005 to provide tsunami relief, Project HOPE has participated in 18 humanitarian assistance and health education missions with nearly 1,000 HOPE volunteers. These missions have provided care to more than 400,000 people, offered health education to more than 100,000 and delivered $33 million in donated medicines and medical supplies.

Currently in Haiti and Colombia:

Vanessa Bernard is a first time HOPE volunteer, serving as a translator in Haiti and Colombia and aboard the USS Iwo Jima.

Marty Cacioppo is a first time volunteer serving as Project HOPE’s Operations Officer onboard the USS Iwo Jima, and ashore in Haiti and Colombia.

Eric Campbell, from Clarke County, Virginia is a recent graduate from Guilford College with a degree in French. A writer and photographer, Eric is volunteering as the Public Affairs Officer during his first mission with Project HOPE to Haiti and Colombia.

Matya Cooksey, a California native, works as a Nurse Practitioner in community health. Matya has travelled around the world and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. A first-time volunteer for HOPE, Matya will be serving as a Family Nurse Practitioner in Haiti and Colombia.

Susan Eilermann, a Nurse from Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee works in pediatric urgent care, neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric allergy and immunology. While onboard the USS Iwo Jima, Susan is volunteering as a Women and Children’s Nurse.

Jenny Jean-Baptiste, a first time volunteer for Project HOPE is serving as a translator during Continuing Promise 2010.

Sandi McCormack is a Nurse Practitioner from Portsmouth Primary Care and Rochester Pediatrics in the state of New Hampshire. Although she is a first-time volunteer for Project HOPE, Sandi’s volunteer experience includes work in the aftermath of both hurricane Katrina and Rita and she is an active member of the medical reserve unit in the state of Maine. Onboard the USS Iwo Jima and ashore in Haiti and Colombia, Sandi is working as a Family Nurse Practitioner.

Dr. Melissa Moore is a Pediatrician from Eugene, Oregon. She is a first-time Project HOPE volunteer but has international medical experience from working in Ecuador, India, Nicaragua and Saipan. While onboard the USS Iwo Jima, she is serving as a Pediatrician.

Dr. Manish Oza, an Emergency Room Physician and Medical Director for WellPoint in Silver Spring, Maryland is on his first mission with Project HOPE. Dr. Manish is the proud father of three boys Ishan, Aryan and Zahin and has been married to his wife Neha for 12 years. “I feel lucky to be a part of this mission with Project HOPE,” he said. While onboard the USS Iwo Jima in Haiti and Colombia, Dr. Manish is serving as an Emergency Room Physician.

Dr. Michael Polifka, a seasoned HOPE volunteer, currently works in the North Adams Regional Hospital in North Adams, Massachusetts. During Continuing Promise 2010, Dr. Polifka is working in Internal Medicine.

Marilyn Ringstaff, a midwife from Trion Medical Center in Trion, Georgia has over 20 years of experience providing preventative healthcare to women. On her second mission with HOPE, Marilyn is working as a Certified Nurse Midwife onboard the USS Iwo Jima and ashore in Haiti and Colombia.

Dinah Salnave is a first time HOPE volunteer, serving as a translator in Haiti and Colombia and aboard the USS Iwo Jima.

Susan Kernan Wathen from South Berwick, Maine, brings 20 years of maternal child health experience to her first volunteer mission with Project HOPE. Currently, she works as a school counselor in a building with 1400 teenagers in a high need poverty high school. “I am looking forward to this opportunity very much,” Susan says. She is serving as a Women and Children's Health Nurse during Continuing Promise 2010.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Community Service in Indonesia

The Navy loves acronyms, and COMMSERV is fast talk for “Community Service.” On their days off, staff and volunteers on the USNS Mercy can sign up to participate in activities designed to foster new relationships between people of different countries. The fact many more people sign up than can go is a sign everyone here is excited to be an ambassador.

Yesterday, Project HOPE’s Sheila Cardwell, a surgical nurse, and HOPE ICU nurse Laura Schlansker, visited with forty or so teenagers who live in an orphanage in Ternate. Some live there because they have no parents, and some are from poor families who have found a sponsor for their child to live where he or she can be educated. All of them basked in the attention of the group in which Sheila and Laura participated.

Sheila is a rare breed of American who actually grew up in an orphanage, so she was particularly interested to see how this one compared. She saw some parallels. “There’s a religious component to both; mine was Catholic, this one is Muslim. And the children are very well-mannered, just as we were taught to be.” “And then,” Sheila continued, “There is the lack of ‘stuff’ in their lives. That felt very familiar.”

The children were lively, friendly, and anxious to talk with the first Americans they had ever met. Sheila brought a cache of inexpensive beaded bracelets and necklaces, and the girls took a long time looking them over, chatting with each other about them, and deciding which ones they wanted to select.

For Laura, it was her first chance to really experience Indonesian culture. “It was hard to communicate with words,” she said, “But we colored and used sign language, and laughed a lot anyway.” Laura was particularly touched when the children sang for them at the end of the visit. “I found out later that the lyrics were about children missing their parents,” she said, shaking her head.

About a week ago, I visited an orphanage in Tidore. I’d been on the waiting list, and at the last minute got the green light. I took along a Slinky and an Etch-A-Sketch, and the organizers brought bubbles, crayons, puzzles, Play-do, and soccer balls. I’m not sure who had more fun, the kids or visitors. I especially connected with three teenage girls –Adi, Tihi, and Veni - who after laughing with me over my attempts to speak Mahasa - gave me a tour. The stucco buildings were clean, and the grounds were lush with vegetation and flowers. But just as Sheila had noted, there was a startling absence of “stuff.” The girls’ bedroom was pleasant but stark, and there were no visible closets or places to store clothing. Despite the lack of things – or maybe because of it? – the children here seem happy, inquisitive, and engaged. Each one has a dream for the future, as do our children everywhere.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Friday, July 23, 2010

Life-altering Surgery in Indonesia

Two days ago we anchored near Ternate, and our surgical teams went ashore to screen local patients for surgery on the ship. Ternate is a large city with many open-air markets and mosques. But the largest mosque, one easily spotted from the ship, sits cheek-to-jowl with a big box store that looks suspiciously like Wal-Mart. And signs announce that KFC is on its way. I love fried chicken, and I have nothing against KFC. But I’m so grateful we got here before the Colonel.

At the hospital, a crowd of people in the lobby waited patiently to be deemed appropriate candidates for surgery. Upstairs, our Project HOPE anesthesiologist somehow scored the only air-conditioned room. Dr. Patel is a man with a sense of humor he hides behind a face that, at rest, looks morose. One of his potential patients that morning looked equally glum, so Dr. Patel said to the interpreter, “Tell him we will take good care of him.” At that, the briefest of smiles flitted through the patient’s face. The smile got slightly bigger when he was cleared for surgery, and then pointed to the scheduling table. There, HOPE OR nurse Linda Crowell assisted him with the paperwork and the logistics of getting onto the ship. At her elbow was a one-page sheet of Indonesian words and phrases that she valiantly employed in her deep Southern accent.

Patients began arriving at the ship within hours of being admitted, and the operating rooms have been going full tilt for two days. Today, I was given the opportunity to observe a toddler’s cleft palate surgery, a case in which both Dr. Patel and Linda Crowell participated. The toddler is fortunate, a child who will never know the heartache surely experienced by another cleft palate patient who came to us as a young man. When he arrived on the ship two days ago, I had to look away. It hurt to think how he has suffered from this deformity his entire life.

After leaving the OR this morning, I stopped by to say hello to HOPE’s discharge nurse Vicki Bryant, and who was she discharging but our adult cleft palate patient! The transformation is nothing short of stunning. With a virtual wave of the USNS Mercy magic wand, he is now a handsome young guy, one who will certainly see the world – and be seen by the world – in a life-changing way.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Work in Ternate Begins with a Ceremony

A palace and a chance to meet a real Sultan! Representing Project HOPE at the opening ceremonies for this stop of our mission in Ternate were Lynn Bemiller, our medical director, and Ellen Fernando, one of our nurses who had a day of liberty from her responsibilities in the ship’s pediatric ward. Your blogger went along, too, excited for yet another opportunity to connect with the gracious people of Indonesia.

The American Consul General Kristen Bauer opened the ceremony, speaking entirely in Indonesian. She began her job here only five days ago, and her fluency seems symbolic to me of the extreme courtesy and warmth demonstrated amongst the people who represent the countries participating in the Pacific Partnership.

Resplendent in a traditional palace uniform - electric blue velvet and a thick, woven cap - a spokesman for the Sultanate talked movingly about the historical friendship between the U.S. and Indonesia. U.S. and Australian forces assisted in the safe removal of the Sultan who ruled during WWII and our assistance during the pending Japanese invasion is still remembered nearly 70 years later. A 92-year old former aide to that Sultan was present at the ceremony, and afterwards, explained to us the meaning of the large, gold, two-headed bird called “Zohba” that dominates the pavilion in which the ceremony took place. “It has two heads to represent the many Indonesian people,” he said, “And one heart to show that we are united.” When asked why the heart is upside-down, he said that it indicates that people remember their ancestors and their history.

The Mercy’s Captain Franchetti spoke about how the Pacific Partnership began with the joint relief efforts after the Tsunami of 2004, and how our continued relationships prepare all involved countries for responding to natural disasters.

After all the speeches were done, and gifts exchanged, we were given the opportunity to view the sultan’s jeweled crown, kept under glass and behind heavy velvet drapes. After everyone oohed and aahed, the drapes were again drawn shut, and one of the guards then faced the wall, head down. I wondered if he were saying a prayer of some sort, perhaps required after opening the crown to public display. But no, when he turned, I had to laugh at myself: He was talking on his cell phone. PS. Two cell phones went off during the ceremony, making me grateful that our American phones don’t work here!

Each of the Indonesian leaders who spoke this morning opened his remarks with “Good morning and peace be with you.” Many in the audience responded, “and peace be with you.” Despite the stiffness of all the uniforms, and the formality of these types of ceremonies, the intention and hope inherent in that exchange felt all warm and fuzzy.

We are seeing thousands of patients with medical needs on this trip, yet all that happened this morning reminds me that our mission is so much bigger. We are waging peace, and this morning it seemed that peace among nations gained new ground.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Teaching - An Important Part of Clinic Work

It’s a classroom on most days, and in the way of classrooms around the world, wooden desks are lined up facing a chalkboard, and colorful posters identify numbers and letters. But today, six of this school’s classrooms in Soasio, Indonesia were arranged and provisioned as medical offices, staffed by an international contingent of medical providers, including Project HOPE volunteer, Dr. Lynn Bemiller.

Soasio is a ten-minute helicopter ride from the spot in the Halmahera Sea in which the USNS Mercy is anchored; and today this team of medical professionals flew in for the last day of a three-day clinic. Once off the helo, the team walked down a steep hill that afforded a view of the town below and the azure coastline. Children rushed to accompany the group to the clinic, and their plastic flip-flops smacked the hot macadam in a calypso chorus.

Hundreds of patients were registered to get eyes checked, teeth extracted, coughs diagnosed, and aches examined. Lynn was one of three providers in the adult medicine “office,” flanked on either side by pediatrics and the pharmacy. Also facing a packed dirt courtyard were the eye clinic, the dental clinic and physical therapy. It seemed every child of the city who was not being examined was hanging over a fence or peering through a window at the excitement.

Lynn began every patient interview in the same calm manner by saying, “My name is Dr. Bemiller, how can I help you?” A nurse/translator functioned as an effective go-between, and after a while, it seemed the language barrier evaporated. One of Lynn’s patients was a ninety-eight year old woman who described the aches and pains in her joints. Lynn elicited a smile from the woman when she said, “There’s just no way to make our joints young again,” before prescribing some anti-inflammatory medicine. So many of the day’s medical solutions were “easy fixes,” but there were too many cases in which the complexity of cases far outstripped our ability to provide care in a short visit. “That’s why this is more about teaching and building infrastructure,” said Lynn. “Working with local physicians is critical.”

The day ended with magic, and this time it wasn’t about a helo ride. As we left the site and walked back up the path, a gaggle of boys caught up and shielded me from the harsh sun with a large umbrella. At the top of the hill we hung out in a pasture waiting for our ride, and I sought the help of an interpreter to ask the boys a few questions. When I asked what they knew about America, they said, “Americans are big and tall.” I then asked if they could sing the Indonesia national anthem for us. There was a slight pause after the interpreter conveyed my request, but then one boy started singing. More kids joined in and soon a group of maybe twenty had gathered were belting out “Indonesia Rava” which I later discovered means Great Indonesia. They sang verse after verse, returning again and again to the refrain:

Great Indonesia, independent & sovereign!
My land, my country which I love
Great Indonesia, independent & sovereign!
Long live Great Indonesia!

I would give up ten sunsets here to share a photo of this with you, but I was so taken with the moment, I completely forgot to pull out my camera. But you can see the beauty in the children from other photos that day.

Indonesia is a great country, lush and beautiful. What a privilege it is to participate in Project HOPE’s mission to provide health care and health education and in turn help build stronger relationships with partner nations around the world.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Supporting Follow-Up Care

Our first surgical patient, Bobitime, got the thumbs up for discharge yesterday, and the Discharge Planning team was ready to ensure that the boy and his father get home safely.

This team of nurses includes Project HOPE first time volunteer Vickie Bryant. "I wanted to go to Haiti with the California Nurses Association, but it didn’t work out. But in the end it did, because when Project HOPE called, I had all my shots up to date and even had all the necessary gear,”
she says. “This is a life-changing experience,. The exposure to different cultures - including those of partner nations, the Navy, the Army, and even those of volunteers from all over the U.S. – is simply amazing.”

Vickie is a Registered Nurse (RN) and a certified emergency nurse. She works in San Luis Obispo, California in an Emergency Room in which, “we do it all: trauma, open heart, caths, MIs, sepsis, even childbirth,” she says. Of her 10 years in nursing, seven have been spent in the Emergency Room.

Vickie came to nursing after a career in banking and finance. Her mother had been a nurse, so when Vickie was ready to change course, the world of nursing felt familiar. Soon after getting her RN, she also became politically active, rising to become the chief nurse representative for the State of California. She advocates for universal health care coverage and greater safety for both nurses and patients.

Discharge planning is all about safety, so Vickie is in the right spot on this ship. Before patients leave, she reviews their discharge instructions with them, with the aid of an interpreter. She answers any last questions, and then walks down the long ramp to the transport boat. She even takes the forty-minute boat ride with her patients, debarks with them and makes certain that they have transportation ashore to the local hospital or home.

“I love nursing,” Vickie says. “I’ll be doing this until my patients are pushing me around in a wheelchair.”

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Monday, July 19, 2010

Caring for Kids Aboard the USNS Mercy

Every bed is filled in the pediatric ward on the USNS Mercy today, or maybe I should say every bed is assigned. Walking through the ward, I had to weave between two boys playing soccer with a beach ball, a gaggle of girls coloring at a low table, and parents walking and jostling crying children. I wanted to check on Santi, our little girl in the yellow dress who boarded in Jakarta to have cataracts removed. Pediatric ICU nurse and HOPE volunteer Ellen Fernando guided me to Santi’s bed, telling me along the way that Santi is picking up English at lightening speed. Santi smiled when we crouched down to speak to her, and when prompted, proudly counted to ten in English. “What is your name?” she then asked me.

“Nama Saya Kathryn,” I said, and was rewarded with another smile. “The doctors will check on the vision improvement in Santi’s left eye within the next few days,” said Ellen, “And then make a decision about doing surgery on her right eye.”

We then stop by another part of the ward so Ellen can say good-bye to Bobitime; a young boy who had a hemangioma removed from his arm yesterday, and is being discharged. Santi was our first hospital patient at this stop, Bobitime is our first off.

Ellen, a native of the Philippines, moved to New York City when she was ten and always knew she would be a nurse. After getting her bachelors of science in nursing, she tested for and received her certification in pediatric critical care. She works at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at Columbia/New York Presbyterian in New York City, but has somehow squeezed in travel to six countries in 2010, with visits to three more scheduled before the end of the year. She started looking for international mission opportunities after Haiti, and her first deployment was with Operation Smile. She wasn’t sure her supervisor would be amenable to her five-week mission with Project HOPE, but was surprised to be told, “You have to do it.”

“Living on the ship has been challenging,” Ellen says. “I didn’t know anything about the military before.” Then she paused to glance over at Santi, resting nearby. “But get me in a room of sick kids, and you’d better get out of my way. This is where I feel most at home.”

Like many of our Project HOPE volunteers, Ellen is continuing to study with an eye on a career in global medical care. She’s beginning a double degree at New York University in the fall and when finished, she’ll be both a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and have a masters in Global Public Health. It seems a lot of people all over the world will need to stay out of Ellen’s way.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

Friday, July 16, 2010

Volunteers Begin Work in Indonesia

We dropped anchor near Tobelo, and personnel on the USNS Mercy headed off in all different directions. Advance teams left the ship early to screen between 100-150 pre-surgical patients, and our first surgeries will take place this afternoon. Project HOPE nurse Dawn Horowitz, pharmacy student Brian Cox, and Dr. April Krantz are part of teams being inserted for a five-day clinic in the remote region of Moratai. They will be sleeping and eating on two boats provided by our Australian partners; outside, under the stars and mosquito nets.

Meanwhile, down in pre-surgery, a young man who joined us in Jakarta named Syarif is waiting to be taken into the OR. He’s had a large, disfiguring nevi on his right cheek since birth that will be removed today. But with a big smile, he tells six-time HOPE volunteer Sheila Cardwell, adult NP, that he is relaxed. On hand to make sure he stays very relaxed during the surgery is Dr. Patel, our team anesthesiologist, and third time HOPE volunteer from Alabama. “I do this because I believe it is important to have a civilian counterpart to the military. Showing up and helping in this way is my way to show my flag.”

While visiting with Syarif and his wife Rusmi yesterday, Sheila discovered that they were married only two weeks ago. Sheila asks to see wedding pictures, but the only photos they have are in their phone, and their battery is dead. So she offered to take them on deck at sunset last night, and took some “honeymoon” pictures for them. They were very excited to view the photos and even happier when Sheila offered to make them some prints. At dinner tonight, Sheila reported that Syarif’s surgery went well, and that more than fifty patients are on the ship tonight, awaiting surgery over the next few days.

Dr. Lynn Bemiller, our HOPE Medical Director, was a guest at opening ceremonies in Tobelo, an event that takes place at the beginning of each mission site, and as the Public Affairs Officer, I tagged along. We boarded a small boat, and forty minutes later we were at our destination.

Our Pacific Partnership Captain Lisa Franchetti wowed the large crowd by delivering large chunks of her remarks in Indonesian. You could just feel the wave of surprise and delight among the locals. The Bupati (mayor of Tobelo and the North Halmahera Regency) was in full ethnic dress, as were many of the host city representatives, and children who danced for us. The friendly citizens of Tobelo mingled with us during the reception and even invited us to their homes. But we had to beg off; it was time for us to go.

Lynn and I were smiling at how perfect our day had been as we left the pavilion. And then…the day became even more perfect: We were told we were going home by helo! So we were driven to the town soccer field, where hundreds of children of all ages were running around. They were pretty excited about the helo, too, and when it roared toward us, they ran onto the field, waving. They were waved off by adults while we were instructed how to put on the life vest, and how to buckle in with the five point harness. We then donned very attractive helmets and goggles, ran low under the deafening propellers, buckled in and off we flew. Within a minute we could spot the Mercy, a speck in the azure sea, and then within five more minutes, we were landing.

Just another day in the salt mines.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE!
Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Greetings from the Rumah Sakit Ship!

Communicating Effectively Takes Practice

“Halo! Apa kabar?” We are kabar baik, terima kasih. Yes, we are very fine, thank you, as we learn basic phrases in Indonesian on this hospital ship, the USNS Mercy. Classes are being taught by a cheerful group of 160 medical and nursing students who are our mission translators. Of course we’ll not be able to function without our translators as patients are assessed and treated, but our initial encounters with Indonesians leads us to believe they will be gracious about our efforts to master at least a few phrases of their language.

Not content to simply teach us basic language, the “Hope Worldwide” translators also presented an evening program of Indonesian culture. Using only materials they scavenged from their suitcases and could find on the ship (brown paper bags, markers, file stickers) they fashioned traditional island costumes and treated everyone to an evening of native music and dances. It was a welcome break from our routines…and as they say…”the crowd went wild.”

We civilian Project HOPE volunteers are also stumbling our way through “Navy.” We’ve had to, to survive. We muster every morning in our appointed departments, go to the mess at 0630, 1200, and 1700, and it’s taps at 2200 in berthing. Five minutes before lights out, an announcement is made shipside: “Tattoo, tattoo, taps in five minutes.” We’ve been asking around to find out what “tattoo” means, but even the Navy personnel we’ve asked don’t seem to know. They just shrug and say it means five minutes. Your investigative reporter will keep digging and report back.

We are also learning about tropical diseases, attending briefings within our clinical units and learning how to safely board the boats and helicopters that take us “in country.” We’re told by the Pacific Partnership advance team that the waters near our mission site are quite “lively” shall we say, so it is critical that we do exactly as the boat personnel tell us. We are told to take the crews’ extended tangan (hands/arms) as we board and exit the boats, or we may end up berenang (swimming.)

Terima kasih for your interest in Project HOPE…Selamat Tinggal!

Nama saya Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer