Monday, January 31, 2011

Give Kids A Smile!

Kids in Africa get a Healthy Smile

Mercy Ships, a global charity, is putting an international twist on bringing smiles to kids. Give Kids a Smile Day, observed the first Friday in February by the American Dental Association, is a day when dentists in the United States offer free oral care to children of low-income families. This year, an estimated 39,000 kids in the United States will receive free services.

Mercy Ships operates the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, serving the poor in West Africa. The programs offered when Mercy Ships serves a nation range from life changing surgeries to physician training. Mercy Ships also operates a dental clinic that provides dental work for individuals free of charge. In essence, the dental team celebrates “Bring Kids a Smile Day” everyday. In 2010, the Mercy Ships dental team performed approximately 15,000 procedures on 8,000 patients. Men, women and children come each day to the clinic. Not only do the patients receive dental treatment, but they also receive instruction about dental hygiene while they wait for their turn to see a professional dentist.

In addition to treating children in the dental clinic, Mercy Ships dental hygienists, like Donna Bartholomew of Elk Grove, California, take time to visit schools and teach kids how to take care of their teeth. During a recent field service in Togo, West Africa, Donna spoke to a classroom full of kids at an elementary school. Many of them had never brushed their teeth – or ever owned a toothbrush.

Ms. Bartholomew warned the children, “Bad health will lead to cavities – holes in your teeth that will pain you.” She then showed them how to brush correctly, asking one of the students to demonstrate in front of the class. At the end of the presentation every child received a bright red toothbrush.

Mercy Ships Chief Dental Officer Dag Tvedt of Norway believes that children in developing countries are more tolerant to pain in a dentist’s chair compared to children in the developed world. He has provided dental treatment for thousands of children in West Africa. Most people would not think that kids would get a smile while being in a dentist’s chair.

Sometimes, however, the treatment they receive alleviates their pain. Dr. Tvedt is a vital part of the Mercy Ships dental team, and he encourages prevention through dental hygiene instruction in the region served by Mercy Ships.

Due to the lack of trained dentists in West African countries, people who live in this region typically do not have any knowledge of dental hygiene. Dental education at a young age will help decrease dental problems in the future. The Mercy Ships dental team performs extractions of teeth everyday. The team hopes that, through prevention, the amount of extractions will decrease. Correct hygiene can prevent extractions and painful procedures down the road.

The spirit of Give Kids a Smile Day is to remember those children who cannot afford yearly dental checkups. Mercy Ships believes kids deserve a smile everyday. The dental care provided by Mercy Ships meets a critical need in the developing countries of West Africa – and gives many children a bright and beautiful smile!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January Newsletter

Here is my January Newsletter. To see a better version and to actually read it, click HERE!

If you cannot read this version, please click HERE to see a version on Google Docs.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Special Place in Hell!

Now, this is only my opinion, but I think there is a special place in hell reserved for people who dress up their pets. Ha, and to prove my point there is a brilliant little website called Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves! Don't worry... it does not contain images of dogs with their heads in the oven or of cats swallowing pawfuls of pills... But their look at the camera tells of their intention... revenge! I bet you these pet owners found a piece of wet pet business in their shoe the next day! Check out the website at the bottom of this post!

Okay... here is some of my favourites!

All photos courtesy of

Friday, January 21, 2011

Explaining Mercy Ships in 30 Seconds!

How do I explain Mercy Ships in 30 seconds? Well, thanks to our video department I can!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sabona Sonke - We Can All See

Cataract eye patient waiting in line for screening,
hoping to be a candidate for surgery.
  Almost 23,000 people in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province are unnecessarily blind. They are not aware that cataract surgery can restore their sight. The 2010 Sabona Sonke Campaign, a three-phase plan of intervention, is in process at three area hospitals in South Africa. The goal is to offer a workable system at each site, providing effective eye care to those with little or no access to medical care.

The Mercy Ships Eye Team is headed by Dr. Glenn Strauss, surgeon and lead consultant. They are partnering with The Fred Hollows Foundation South Africa, the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Health, and management professionals from each hospital to use the current resources most efficiently. The hospitals involved include the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex, the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, and the Sabona Eye Centre in Queenstown. The program will be presented for about three weeks at each hospital.

Hopefully, the Sabona Sonke Campaign will encourage people to use the hospitals more often. For example, the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha, South Africa, is a fine facility that stands ready to handle the medical needs of the community. However, people do not utilize the hospital to its full potential. One reason is that many people cannot afford needed medical services. Another problem is the prevailing public opinion that the hospital is where one goes to die.

Close up of a new lens being inserted onto a cataract patient's eye.
 At a meeting of those involved at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha, Dr. Strauss explained the importance of keeping the flow of patients constant. This requires that every part of the process must be working well within the system, as well as outside. Outside obstacles that must be overcome include negative attitudes about eye treatment and government stipends to the blind (which are often a person's only source of income).

In addition to Dr. Strauss, the Mercy Ships team includes Kim Strauss, patient coordinator; Dr. Richard Newsom, eye surgeon and consultant; Glenys Gillingham, surgical nurse and head of the surgical team; Woody Hopper, consulting optometrist and head of screening; Robin Hopper, educational team leader, administrator and management coordinator; and Shannon Hickey, team member.

Phase one of the program begins with assessment of the current system, training of eye teams, and the transporting of patients to hospital locations. The second phase calls for the training of ophthalmologists in the Mercy Ships expedited procedure of cataract removal, and the referrals of cataract patients to be received at the hospital sites. The final phase includes the cataract operations, assessment and debriefing following the cataract surgeries, and the continuation of the program at future sites.

Screening sites for the Port Elizabeth program were held at Settlers, Uitenhage and Motherwell. The Queenstown screening sites for the Sabona Eye Centre were held at SS Gida Hospital, Aliwal North, Empilisweni and Cofimvaba. Butterworth, St. Elizabeth, St. Patrick and Madzikane kaZulu were the screening sites for the Program at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha.

Many cataract patients of Optometrist Tseli Khalatha, as well as others who learned about the program by word of mouth, crowded the screening site in Butterworth. They shared a common hope – to have their sight restored. Mr. Khalatha was in charge of admissions at the screening, doing the initial check for cataracts and moving them onto the next step in the process of identifying appropriate patients for the surgery. Robin Hopper and Shannon Hickey did biometry testing to check measurements inside the eye, and Woody Hopper used the slit lamp, a diagnostic tool for cataracts and the final step in the screening process.

Phase II of the program is the training of local eye surgeons. At the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha, South Africa, surgical candidates arrived by shuttle from the Butterworth screening site and were prepared for cataract surgery. Dr. Strauss and Dr. Richard Newsom, another eye surgeon and consultant, trained surgeons in the Mercy Ships expedited procedure of cataract removal. They worked with Dr. Carolina Salazar, Dr. Laveen Naidoo, and Dr. Thabo Matubatuba of the Mandela Hospital.

Post Op cataract eye patient 77 yr old Nontombi Ntanjong
smiles in appreciation of sight next day after surgery in the
Nelson Mandela Academy hospital in Mthatha.
Surgical Nurse Glenys Gillingham, head of the surgical team, also instructed the hospital's ophthalmic nurses in new procedures to better assist the doctors.

Dr. Salazar, who came from Cuba to work for only one year in the South African hospital, is now completing her thirteenth year at the facility. “I love the work that he (Dr. Strauss) is doing,” she said. “It's nice to have colleagues around. We all have the same purpose – to help patients.”

Mandoyisile Esther Ntanjana, one of the cataract patients, was totally blind. Her neighbor had also been blind, but had recovered her sight after a similar surgery. The neighbor encouraged Mandoyisile to have the procedure. Mandoyisile's brilliant smile reflected her great joy after the successful surgery. With great excitement, she declared, “I had a dark view before. Now I can see! I am happy!”

Dr. Strauss is working closely with ophthalmologists at each location, and hopes this process will open doors to new strategies for addressing blindness that will be duplicated easily in other areas. In this way, effective eye care will continue after Mercy Ships leaves South Africa.

Story by Elaine B. Winn
Photos by Debra Bell

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Counting My Blessings...

I just want to convey my thanks to you for being part of my life this year ... as each year comes and goes ... we grow through the challenges that comes knocking at our doorstep and 2010 proved to be no different! It was real tough at times, but as I look back in reflection, I witness some remarkable moments and memories that will last a life time... and I am filled with gratitude.

Thank you for the friendship, the support, the encouragement, for holding my head up high when I failed to see the light at the end of the tunnel, for sharing the laughter, the tears, the doubts and confusion, and precious moments of joy and hope... (so many memories are flashing through my mind as I write this)... that made me grow beyond the boundaries of myself... and the opportunity to experience many new and wonderful life changing experiences during 2010.

Thank you for being you this year in my life...