Monday, June 5, 2017

check out The Surgery Ship on NatGeo People in Australia!

Hello from Fort Wayne, Indiana!  Nick and I are currently on our personal time off in the states visiting family before we head to Cameroon to continue our time with Mercy Ships.

We wanted to take a moment to let friends and family in Australia know that today (6 June 2017) at 7:30pm AEST the final episode of the eight part national geographic program "The Surgery Ship" will air on the Nat Geo People channel.  This one includes Nick and the clubfoot program!  

This film team was with us during the first half of the Benin outreach from August-December 2016, and they did an amazing job following stories of the patients and crew, and capturing so much of the heart of what we do.

Here are a few screen grabs from the Mercy Ships Australia Facebook page....(click on the to view them larger)

Here's a quick preview for the 8 part series:


 - I don't have Nat Geo People Channel, how can I watch?

Here are some helpful directions (click here).  If you are in Australia, it is possible to view episode 1 free online, and also to sign up to Foxtel Play (with a free 2-week trial) if you would like to see other episodes online.

 - When will the series air in the USA?

The series is not yet airing in the USA.  We don't know when it will air, but we will keep you updated!  In the meantime, you can check out lots of clips, photos and previews at the National Geographic website here.  

More blog updates coming soon, but we just wanted to take a moment to share the news about the documentary!  Nick and I are doing well, and enjoying our break and out time with family.  If you want to see a few photos, you can head over to my instragram account here.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

the months ahead, and the moments now

We have this wooden map on display in our cabin, we bought it in Madagascar last year.  Lately we've spent quite a few hours getting our flights booked for the coming months (and after lots of price comparing, emailing, and internet searching, I think we're mostly set)...we'll be flying over a few of these oceans in the not-too-distant future.  

What's happening now:

The first months of 2017 have been full for both of us, but in a good way.  

Our days are filled with doing what we came here to do- Nick is fully invested in seeing the clubfoot clinic planted on a very firm foundation before the ship leaves.  The clinic is still doing great; they are beginning the process of discharging the patients who were treated together with mercy ships into the care of the local clinic for follow up appointments.  Soon, the clinic will start treatment for more children, and they will be the primary treatment providers.  Nick will spend less and less time at the clinic during treatment sessions, and will provide input for more complex cases.

I am working in the ophthalmic operating room, and have the privilege to help return sight to those blinded by cataracts. We are treating about 60-70 people per week depending on the schedule, so it is a busy operating room!  We also have 4 local partner surgeons who have been coming on board for training in the MSICS (Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery) method.  One of the four local surgeons joins us each day in the OR. 

God is at work in marvelous ways within both of these projects.

What's coming up next:

We have just over 6 weeks left in Benin.

We have committed to continuing with the ship to the next country, Cameroon.  We will both continue in our roles, myself in the operating room and Nick running the ponseti clubfoot clinic.  However, we will get to do something new and exciting as well.  We will both be going to Cameroon ahead of the ship's arrival to help with preparations.  More on that in a moment....

I wrote down a few key dates....

18 April - We go to Australia for one month.  We will see family, work for some weeks, and reconnect in Brisbane.

19 May - We go to the United States for one month.  Last time we were in the states was October 2015, so I am feeling ready to see my family!  We are also in need of rest and time off.

Mid June

Suzanne  - I go from the states to Cameroon to join the Advance Team (the team responsible for going ahead of the ship to make necessary preparations) as the Medical Capacity Building Liaison. 

This is so exciting for me, and I am thrilled and honored to take on the role.  In future posts I will tell more about what that means exactly, but in a nutshell it means that I will make preparations so that our MCB (Medical Capacity Building) department can get going as smoothly as possible once the ship arrives.  This means lots of relationship building, and communication with the local healthcare system- something I really love doing!  Check out this video if you'd like to learn more about our MCB department.

Nick - At the same time I head to Cameroon, Nick will go from the states to Switzerland for continued French language immersion/study.  There is a language school very near the Mercy Ships Swiss office, where the organization will be sending him.  We are very happy for him to have this opportunity.  Speaking french has changed so much about Nick's ability to teach well and build strong partnerships.  

In July, Nick will also come to Cameroon ahead of the ship and make preparations for the Ponseti program.  More on that in future posts as well.

August 2017 - The Africa Mercy arrives in Douala, Cameroon for 10 months field service

More thoughts on...

...our time here in Benin: 
 We love this country.  I don't think I'll be ready to say goodbye in 6 weeks, there so much more to see and experience in this place.  The hospital won't actually close till May, and the ship will head to the Canary Islands for annual repairs in June.  Because of upcoming plans, Nick and I need to leave a bit earlier.  
We are also not only saying goodbye to Benin, but to many fellow crew members (some of whom have served alongside us for years) who are moving on to a new season of life back home or taking a break from the ship next year.  
The upcoming six weeks means wrapping up work projects, saying goodbye to local friends and partners, and soaking up as much quality time with dear friends and fellow crew as we can.  For Nick, (among many other things) he will be writing final reports and making sure the handover from Mercy Ships to CURE International goes well for the clubfoot clinic.  In addition to working in the OR, I am attending Advance team meetings and also wrapping up some projects from the sterilization mentoring program.  These weeks are going to fly by.

...our upcoming time in Australia and America: 
We are ready to reconnect and also rest.  We are looking forward to seeing our sweet little almost-one-year-old niece in Australia, and also my youngest brothers in the states (and of course, the rest of our families as well).  :)   During our time in Australia, Nick is able to work at his hospital for a few weeks, and we are grateful that he is able to stay connected there.   

While we are in the states, we are thinking of hosting an open house at my parent's home in Fort Wayne so that we can have an opportunity to say hi to many friends and also share some stories from the last few years.  If you are in the Fort Wayne area stay tuned to future blog updates for more details.

...some prayer requests:
That we would say "goodbye/see you later" well as we head into a season of transitions.

That the Ponseti clinic would continue to develop into a strong center for clubfoot treatment in Benin.  We have big dreams for this place, and believe they will be a source of hope for many families in the future.

That details of our upcoming travels would continue to fall into place.  There are still some logistics to work out. 

Thank you for keeping up with our journey!  We are blessed by you!

Below are some recent photos... I've been taking more photos lately.  Wanting to capture lots of memories before it's time to move on.  Also - don't miss the amazing video at the end of the post from our ship's videographer!  (There are even a few clips from the clubfoot clinic in it)

Here's me at work - recently we operated on a few young patients.  Brave 10-12 year olds who laid perfectly still so that we could take their cataract out under local anesthesia, just like we do for the grown ups.  As a present, they each got a hand-knitted teddy bear, complete with an eye patch matching theirs. :)  Each one of those kids had completely won us over by the time they walked out of the OR.

Zemidjan (motor-taxi) traffic at a stoplight downtown.

One of my favorite places - fabric market...oh the colors.

My friend Amy, always ready for an adventure.  She tells the best stories.

Superheroes on the wall at the Ponseti Clinic...

Nick and Melchior plan out a busy day of seeing patients at the clinic.

My favorite veggie market.  
Love chatting with these ladies, and they always ask me how the surgeries are going on the ship.

These sweet ladies let me take a few photos while they were cooking.

Evening time in the cabin, nick learning chords for a new song.

Melchior and his sweet 5 month old baby at his in-laws home in Ouidah.  They made a feast for us when we visited!  So much delicious food and such a warm welcome!

A djembe drum craftsman in Adjarra shows us each step of the drum-making process.

Canoe visit to a village up river.

Home sweet ship after dark.  Our cabin window is just hidden behind the tent on the left side of the photo.

Here's the video from Kat, one of her personal projects.  Amazing!  See if you can find the shots from the Ponseti clinic. 

Mercy Ships Benin Field Service from Kat Sotolongo on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Together We Build Something Beautiful

Some beautiful things are happening here in Cotonou! First, a look back on the last few months in the clubfoot clinic, then photos of an special event on January 11, 2017. 

August 2016 - December 2016 : Strengthening the Foundation and Working Together

Since the ship’s arrival in August 2016, the Mercy Ships Ponseti team and the team at Cabinet de Kinésithérapeutes et Associés have been working hard. The goal is to build upon the earlier training from CURE International (who will continue to partner with the clinic long-term) to establish accessible and excellent quality clubfoot treatment for the people of Benin. 

They treat patients together on 4 clinic days per week.  Over the last few months they have taken a group of children through each phase of the Ponseti method:  initial assessments, weekly casting, achilles tenotomy, and now the kids are in the bracing phase of treatment. 

Regarding these first months together, Nick says "The early phase of the program involves a lot of teaching and mentoring and relationship building.  I do really push the clinicians to continue pursuing excellence and perfecting their practice.  This clinic already had some experience with clubfeet, which is great. I've been very impressed with the clinic as a whole, this team is dedicated to the kids they treat."  

Photo below: Nick teaches an intensive training in September 2016 for the providers at Cabinet de Kinésithérapeutes.  These two weeks included theory, lectures, and practice casting on clubfoot models.

Above:  (Left) Nick gives a lecture during the intensive training course in September 2016.  (Right) A patient plays in the bathtub while soaking off a plaster cast.
Below: (Left) The team performed the first tenotomies on board the ship with Dr. Lindsay Sherriff.  Later, they began doing the tenotomy procedure at a local site. (Right) Nick, Serge, Marie-Josiane, Ulysse, Marina and Melchior pose for a photo after the intensive training.

Photo below:  Sibling support during casting appointments is good for little patients!

Below left:  Melchior assesses a patient.  The plastic tool on the table is a goniometer, used to measure the degrees of flexibility of the foot in a variety of directions.  The patient's feet are carefully measured each week to track their progress.

Below: Clubfoot baby doll always manages to get in a few pictures.  He's been a patient in clubfoot clinics in several countries now.  :)

Below Right:  Ulysse finishes off a plaster cast on a sweet patient.

January 11, 2017 - Celebrating the Efforts and the Changes

On January 11, the Ponseti team hosted a Clubfoot Celebration event for the first group of children who "graduated" from casting, and have straight feet!

Families of the patients, the clinic staff, Mercy Ships crew and leadership, and even a representative of the Ministry of Health attended the celebration. The Mercy Ships hospital chaplaincy team led songs, and there was MUCH dancing and jubilation. (See for yourself in the photos below)

Nick explains "The reason why we wanted to have this celebration day was to mark this as a special moment.  We want to celebrate the kids' new straight feet and the accomplishments of the local team.  This is also a great opportunity to raise community awareness of the clinic.  But above all, it is to thank God for what He has done and what He is doing." 

 The day was full of joy, smiles and color.

 Ulysse, Melchior and Marina count how many guests have come.

The team spent several days preparing for this event, and that included making the building as shiny and clean as possible, and decorating (good work on the balloons, Marina!)

Several parents shared their testimonies, and after that it was singing and dancing.  During her testimony, one mother said "I am just so happy, I want to sing a song for you!"  She led the very first song along with the chaplaincy team.

Pure celebration, joy, and thankfulness to the Lord!!!

Clementine (on the far right) shared a brief message, she has been a hospital chaplain on the ship for more than 20 years. 

Melchior and other staff and parents were interviewed by the media.  

Group photo of all who attended.

Head tilt photo - this is a Ponseti tradition at clubfoot events around the world. :)

These are some strong Mamas who are committed to their future of their children.

Team and patients group photo - very, very good work to everyone involved!

The clinic's future...sharing the news!

Melchior arranged for the media to attend the celebration- and by the end of the week the good news of clubfoot treatment in Cotonou was shared on a national television station and three different newspapers.  

The title here reads "Treatment of clubfoot in Benin: Children re-find their smiles", and the first sentence says "It is no longer a dream but a reality, children suffering from clubfeet are treated and healed on our own land."

Below are a few screenshots from the news report.  It aired on the evening news, and then four more times in the following days.  The reporters did a great job of explaining that clubfoot is treatable, that the ponseti method works, and that treatment is accessible in Cotonou through our partner clinic.

Just look at this little guy- surrounded by people celebrating his healing!  He won't remember his clubfeet, but his parents will be able to tell him about this journey.  He, and each child who comes to the clinic, is full of promise and possibility.  We pray that he will accomplish all that God has for him to do with his life (on two straight feet!).  

Please pray for us and for the clinic here in Cotonou. Our heart's desire is to see this clinic continue to grow deep, strong roots.  We want good things for each of our Beninese colleagues, we pray that God continues to open doors in their lives both personally and professionally, and that they are able to help many many more children in the future.  

We give the glory to the Lord for the good things that have happened here!

If you would like to see updates from the Cotonou clinic, they have started a Facebook page (click here)

Also, thanks goes to Justine Forrest, a Mercy Ships photographer, and to Marina Schmid, Ponseti Clinic Assistant for the fantastic photos! :)