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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