Health & Medicine

Saturday, 13 June 2009 02:23

Mercy Ship Crew - A Floating Blood Bank

{pp}“It Takes All Types” according to World Blood Donor Day

Millions of people around the world owe their lives to individuals they will never meet - people who donate their blood to help others. But South African volunteer crew members on a Mercy Ship live and work just minutes away from the patients who receive their “gift of life” every day in West Africa.

Cape Town resident Joan Kotze is currently volunteering onboard the Mercy Ship docked in Benin. Her blood donation along with that of 11 other blood donors onboard ship recently helped save the life of 34 year-old Ambroise, a patient who was operated on for a large, benign but growing tumor. Kotze says “It was actually quite special for me to donate here on the ship. At first they couldn’t find a vein, and I was reaching a point of feeling disappointed because I felt special to be in a position to donate.” But meeting the person whose life was changed by her donation has made all the difference for Kotze. “When I met Ambroise, I just felt this unspoken connection. He was very open. I am so grateful to see him survive the surgery, and I am glad my donation wasn’t in vain, that something really good came of it,” she said.

Originally from East London, plastics surgeon Dr. Tertius Venter first met Ambroise at the ship’s screening day shortly after arrival into port. Later, he performed Ambroise’s surgery. A repeat volunteer, Venter flies out to meet the ship in a new port each year to share his expertise. Ambroise, who makes his living as a zemidjan driver (motorbike taxi) received more than 12 pints of blood during his surgery. Since childhood, he had lived with a tumor on his shoulder that grew and spread along his arm. It was painful and debilitating. He was not able to carry anything and had to wear a long shirt every day because he was ashamed of the large growth. When Ambroise was a baby, a doctor had told his parents they could perform surgery to remove the tumor. But his parents were afraid and later when he was older, they could not afford it. Now, after a free surgery onboard the Mercy Ship, Ambroise can drive his zemidjan all day without pain. He can lift and carry things. He is feeling strong and is thankful.

The blood bank onboard the Africa Mercy is not stored in a refrigerator in neatly labeled packages for days or weeks. Instead, the 400-person volunteer crew sign up to give blood on demand to help patients being treated in one of the six state-of-the-art surgery suites onboard the floating hospital that sails to a different West African port every year. According to a ship’s spokesperson, there are currently 118 crew members onboard the Mercy Ship who are signed up to donate blood on call. Crew can be asked at any time day or night to give a pint. Often, the donation is walked straight over to the patient while still warm. Sixty units of blood have been donated to 21 patients since the ship began surgeries in the port of Cotonou, Benin this past February according to a ship’s spokesperson. With the help of Mercy Ships floating blood bank, the international medical crew onboard the Africa Mercy expect to impact more than 53,000 people through the hospital ship’s services during its 10 month stay in the West African port.

ABOUT WORLD BLOOD DONOR DAY: World Blood Donor day was designated as an annual event at the United Nations World Health Assembly in 2005.The overall objective of WBDD is to create wider awareness of the need for safe blood for transfusion and the importance of blood donation. Click on ABOUT MERCY SHIPS: Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services to those without access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $748 million, directly impacting more than 2.16 million direct beneficiaries. More than 1200 crew worldwide, representing more than 40 nations are joined each year by over 2000 short-term volunteers. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Go to Interviews with crew are available. Hi-res photos and general Mercy Ships broadcast footage clips are available for download at or upon request.

Mercy Ships Media Contact information:
John Rae, Director Mercy Ships Southern Africa
PO Box 290
Plumstead 7801
Tel: + 27 21 715 4944
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Diane Rickard, Director International Public Relations
Mercy Ships
44.1438.727.800 (UK)
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Published in Health and Medicine

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