jump head-first into a new OR. All goes well. “Chris,
there is no better place for two surgeons to first meet
than in the OR,” I tell him.
I awake in the morning to a real treat. Don Stephens,
the founder of Mercy Ships, is on board and flying out
today. I had read so much about Mr. Stephens when I
first learned of Mercy Ships and would recommend his
book, Ships of Mercy, to anyone with a desire to see how
one person’s dream can translate into something larger
than life. I have a brief conversation with Don and take
some pictures with him before he leaves the vessel.
The rest of the day is spent in the screening clinic,
where I see 35 patients with pediatric surgical problems who were initially screened by nursing staff.
These patients are from all parts of Madagascar and
are temporarily housed in Tamatave, which is paid for
by Mercy Ships. Mirjam Plomp, RN, a young Dutch
nurse who has been screening patients throughout the
country for more than three years, leads the screening team. Their diagnostic accuracy and appropriate
patient selection makes my job easier, and the efficiency of the screening process is amazing. I thought
I was going to see patients through the late evening,
but we are done by 3:00 pm, and at that point we move
on to other matters.
I return to my cabin before dinner for a few minutes of rest to find a very special gift—my luggage
has arrived after three days in limbo. Everything is
intact, including some surgical supplies I intend to
use in my first elective operation tomorrow. Can it
get any better?
Dispatch 3: The heroes of Africa
At the end of the third consecutive operating day, I leave
the port of Tamatave for the first time to have dinner at
one of the local restaurants with Heuric Rakotomalala,
MD, one of four practicing pediatric surgeons in Madagascar, a country of 24 million people. 3 Dr. Rakotomalala
has come to the Africa Mercy to operate with me for three
days. In addition to providing me with a chance to collaborate with local surgeons and learn from them, our
joint work has very special significance.
In late 2008, I arrived at Montreal Children’s Hospital with an ambitious dream, to integrate a low-income
country rotation into our pediatric surgical training
program. I felt it would give our fellows a unique
perspective on pediatric surgical practice in resource-poor areas of the world and an appreciation of our
own resources. With the help of Dan Poenaru, MD,
FACS, FRCSC, who had established East Africa’s first
pediatric surgical training program in Kijabe, Kenya,
we succeeded in creating the rotation and sending
Robert Baird, MD, CM, FACS, FRCSC, as our first
fellow in 2010. The program then evolved into an
exchange of fellows between the Montreal Children’s
and Bethany Kids Kijabe Hospitals. Five of our fellows
have gone to Kijabe, and we’ve hosted five of theirs. 4
Dr. Rakotomalala was the first graduate of the Kijabe
program. Working alongside him on the Africa Mercy
in his home country is profoundly satisfying, the fruit
of a unique collaboration between North and South.
Left: Dr. Emil (left) in the OR with Dr. Rakotomalala
Dr. Emil rounding with
Dr. Rakotomalala (second from
left) and nurses Deborah from
France and Janai from the U.S.