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  • Medical assistance ahoy!

    Asante nurse spends 7 weeks aboard floating hospital
  • It was in nursing school that Heather Morehouse first heard about Mercy Ships, an organization that provides free surgeries in developing countries by using hospital ships.
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  • It was in nursing school that Heather Morehouse first heard about Mercy Ships, an organization that provides free surgeries in developing countries by using hospital ships.
    "I knew it was something that I wanted to do," said Morehouse, who first had to finish her nursing degree and get a few years of hospital experience.
    Morehouse, now 28, had the opportunity this spring to travel aboard Mercy Ships' largest vessel, the Africa Mercy, volunteering her time and nursing expertise to give post-operative care to patients undergoing extensive surgeries.
    The ship has been docked on the coast of the Republic of the Congo since September; Morehouse visited from March 9 to April 26.
    She joined about 450 medical professionals from about 35 countries on the ship, which has five operating rooms and 82 patient beds.
    "It was very cool to interact with all the health care professionals from different countries," Morehouse said.
    A labor and delivery nurse at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, Morehouse was placed in the maxillofacial ward of the ship, caring for patients who underwent surgeries for such things as cleft lift repair or removal of a facial tumor.
    About 15 patients at a time would share a room and one bathroom, Morehouse said, but overall the ship hospital was as advanced as any hospital on land.
    "They have it set up like a very Westernized hospital," said Morehouse. "And it's docked, which helps."
    The health care professionals on the ship volunteer their time and pay room and board fees, which helps keep the surgeries free and offers a unique atmosphere, Morehouse said.
    Other funding for Mercy Ships comes from private donors and corporate sponsorships.
    "It's a sacrifice to go, but at the same time, that makes the environment cool, because you know that people wouldn't be there if it wasn't something they were passionate about," she said.
    Morehouse remembers helping with the post-operative care of an infant named Thersia, who had a cleft lip and palate repaired.
    Unlike some children, Thersia was friendly and affectionate with doctors, Morehouse said.
    "She was very lovable. She would let us carry her around and cuddle her," said Morehouse. "And her mom thought we were the greatest, because she said we'd given her daughter a normal life."
    Morehouse communicated with the French-speaking patients through a translator, but their appreciation of the medical care was obvious, she said.
    "They were very grateful and very hopeful," said Morehouse. "You can tell in their eyes that they're so grateful."
    When the ship completes its 10-month stay in the Republic of the Congo this summer, more than 3,000 surgeries will have been performed during the visit, Mercy Ships staffers estimated.
    Morehouse said she hopes to go back to the ship sometime in the future, if her finances allow it.
    "I would love to go back and do something more long term," she said.
    Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.
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