Kégué Stadium in Lomé was the site of the main patient screening for the 2012 Mercy Ships Togo Field Service. About 4,000 people seeking medical care, accompanied by their caregivers, began lining up in the wee hours of the morning on the first of February. Mercy Ships security and advance teams were also on-site to oversee the carefully designed plan to ensure a peaceful and orderly flow of people through the various screening stages.
By 8:00 a.m., all screening stations were ready to receive people, and the chairs in the front registration area quickly filled up. Many of the patients clearly displayed the pain and suffering that result when medical care and financial resources are in desperately short supply.
Yet, present in equal force, was the spirit of hope that pervades every patient screening offered by Mercy Ships. Many of the desperate patients can be provided with free medical care, and appreciation runs deep. Nicole Bassabi, holding her tiny niece close to her, spoke with emotion, “Wapondi’s mother and I are so excited that there is hope that Wapondi’s cleft lip can be healed. Mercy Ships is God’s blessing of hope.”
The screening room for facial tumors was both the most dire and the most uplifting screening station. An incredible team of maxillofacial and dental experts, led by Mercy Ships Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Parker, were in constant consultation. Each case was a unique and challenging situation – to an extreme rarely experienced in the developed world, where early intervention is the norm.
Highly complex conversations ensued among the surgeons about the prognosis for treating each person. Gentle humanity and deep care were showered on each patient. Examinations were handled tenderly, and questions were posed slowly and compassionately. Every person, regardless of their condition, was treated with the utmost grace.
Afi Gale, who operates a small maize farm in central Togo, was especially grateful for the kindness shown to her. “I was very afraid to come today. I know nothing of this in my village. But, in this room, I know there is only good. Thank you, Mercy Ships doctors.”
Throughout the day, a sad reality was also confronted. Not every person could be helped by Mercy Ships. Some people had medical conditions that Mercy Ships was not able to treat during this five-month field service. For example, some conditions require complicated procedures and a lengthy recovery time that cannot be completed within the span of a field service.
For those turned away, a special team of Mercy Ships volunteers came together to offer continuous prayer and encouragement. Josh, a volunteer onboard the Africa Mercy, had searched his heart and decided to join the Prayer Team. He said, “It would have been easy for me to help escort patients accepted for surgery. But God gave me the heart to walk along with those whose path is walking away from the care they need.”
An important contribution to the comfort of the people at the screening and the 250 Mercy Ships volunteers was the ample access to fresh water. For the first time water supplies were part of a generous sponsorship arrangement. The Brasserie du Benin – Coca Cola partnership donated 4,800 bottles of VITALE water. Patient Screening Coordinator Esther Blaum was extremely grateful for the generous contribution. “Given the heat, the ready and ample access to water ensured that people remained properly hydrated. Our youngest and oldest patients are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures,” she said.
By the end of the day, as a shimmering sunset washed over Kégué Stadium, 1,609 people had received a first screening, with 475 booked for either surgery or more extensive tests. The enthusiastic words of Kossi Koudoha said it all, “God bless you, Mercy Ships! I thank you for my new life I will have without this pain.”
Story by Joanne Thibault
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell and JJ Tiziou