Mercy Ship volunteering – tears, laughs and ‘blimming’ hard work

Most graduates begin searching for a job.

However, armed with her brand new Master of Sports Physiotherapy from the University of Queensland, Emma Lattey (pictured left) joined Mercy Ship and headed to Guinea, West Africa!

Two years ago Lattey told colleagues and clients she was leaving the practice, in persuit of further study.

Her move surprised some and disappointed many.

But for those who know Emma, supremely competent and with compassion to burn, volunteering on the Mercy Ship was an almost logical post-grad next step.

The well-respected physio, sought-after by both surgeons and high-profile sports professionals in Wellington, volunteering on the Mercy Ship was a way of helping people less fortunate.

She’s however quick to deflect attention away from her and focus the story on the work aboard the Mercy Ship.

Lattey describes the physio work as amazing. At the moment there is an orthopaedic surgeon from Luxembourg on board, operating on children aged 3 to 14 years old who suffer from severe knock knees or bow legs.

Before the operation Lattey’s job is to do pre-op screening of all of them in order to measure leg angles and strength the day before surgery.

“They (the patients) are so cute but have lots of attitude“, she says.

Undergoing tibial or femoral osteotomy, usually on both legs, the procedures are major surgery.

For example, an osteotomy involves removing a wedge of bone to straighten legs. The patient is then put in full length casts to maintain the straightness their legs.

“After the operation, my job is to get them walking” she says with her characteristic wide optimistic smile.

“Day three post op, and walking in full length casts to help the bone heal is not easy; for both patient and physio!

“There is a lot of crying, telling me off, yelling, and bribing,” she says.

However, within a week, patients are usually discharged to go back to their village or a care centre.

“The kids are incredible”, she says.

“They stay in their casts for 4 weeks and then come to a big rehab tent where we re-xray, remove the casts and begin their mobilisation to get them walking again.”

Describing the situation as “very busy”, Lattey mentions that while on board the particular surgeon she is working with will likely operate on 95 children.

Rickets and malnutrition make deformities like these common and severe in Guinea.

“It’s a simple lack of Vitamin D and Calcium,” she says.

With her 4 months complete, Lattey goes searching on the Internet and learns Guinea, with a population of 12 million, is the 17th poorest country in the World.

“Poverty in Guinea is extreme and the 16 poorer countries aren’t far from there”, Lattey observes.

She is always optimistic – always. She writes a brief note:

“This is my final check in from a very hot and dusty Guinea after nearly 4 months of hard work and incredible moments – both amazing and really tough.

“It’s been a super busy last six weeks full of sweat, dust, and lots of challenges.

“The hands-down highlight of my time here, and the envy of everyone on the ship, is the magic that happens in the rehab tent.

“Our team of physios and day crew have rehabilitated over 100 amazing African children through major orthopaedic surgery.

“There have been so many tears, so many laughs and a lot of ‘blimming’ hard work.

“The Guinean people are made of a special mix of beauty, courage (said in a French accent), sass, and fight….and when the time comes to discharge them home….

“We dance!!!!”

The Mercy Ship

Mercy Ship

At each screening location in Guinea’s interior people are hoping their condition can be treated by #MercyShips. In most cases there is simply no other chance to receive treatment.

17 million people worldwide die every year from conditions treatable by surgery.

This is higher than the number who die from TB, Malaria and HIV/Aids combined.

The Mercy Ships organization is working to tackle this crisis.

Operating the largest charity-run hospital ship in the world, it delivers free, safe medical care to some of the world’s least-developed countries.

This “floating hospital” is staffed almost entirely by volunteers.

These volunteers give their expertise for free to help treat dental and eye problems, cleft lips and palates, tumours, club feet, childbirth injuries, burns and various other conditions.

Since 1978, Mercy Ships have visited 55 countries, providing services worth more than NZ$2.35 billion and have directly helped more than 2.7 million people.

Mercy Ships have also trained 42,000 local professionals in their areas of expertise.

Every year a bunch of Kiwis head to West Africa to volunteer onboard an enormous hospital ship run by the Christian charity called Mercy Ships.

While mariners and technical crew members use their skills to ensure the hospital ship functions to the highest standards in the journey from port to port, surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists and radiographers provide surgeries on board to thousands of patients from the world’s poorest countries.

Tumour removal, facial reconstruction, cataract removal/lens implants, cleft lip and palate reconstruction and orthopaedics surgeries (club feet and bowed legs) and the restoration girls and women suffering from of birth injuries.

The story played 7.30pm on March 10th on “Sunday” – TVONE –  and is now available On Demand.


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