January 6, 2016 3:50 pm
Updated: January 7, 2016 9:50 am

Volunteering on hospital ship a rewarding experience for Sask. doctor

WATCH ABOVE: “Mercy Ships” brings health care to impoverished regions that have little or no access to medical care. A local anesthesiologist who volunteered with the charity talks about her experiences.


A Saskatoon doctor says her recent experience of providing health care on a hospital ship in Madagascar was “fantastic.”

Dr. Marguerite McDonald was a volunteer on the ship “Africa Mercy” docked in Tamatave in Madagascar. It’s one of the vessels used by the charity Mercy Ships to provide free health care to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

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“Usually it’s a country where there is lots of poverty, not really good health care, the ship will just park in the port of that country, and work with the local government, try to find out what the needs of health care are in the country,” Dr. McDonald told Global News in Saskatoon Wednesday.

“They would go out and look for surgical conditions that could potentially be corrected … the main focus is to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor people in that country.”

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The impact that they can have is significant. She recounted one case where a 60-year-old man had lived with a massive tumour growing out of his face.

“Sambany, carried this tumour, it weighed 17 pounds, around with him for about 19 years, really at the end of his rope, no hope left, heard about the ship on his little radio, he was hidden in his house, couldn’t go out, couldn’t eat properly anymore, and ended up on the ship, this was a series of operations that finally healed him from this tumour,” she said.

Dr. McDonald, an anesthesiologist, is originally from South Africa, and says the fact that she could do the work in Africa hit home for her.

“Africa is close to my heart,” she said. “That’s where I wanted to give back a little bit.”

She said besides the satisfaction of seeing people like Sambany treated, the crew she worked with was exceptional.

“It is the best working conditions you can imagine, it is such a wholesome environment, people bring their best to the job every day, so much compassion, so much hope,” she said. “It is fantastic.”

She said they worked long hours, and were often on call, but it all felt worthwhile.

“The long and short of it is, there but for the grace of God go I,” she said.

During its 2015-16 stay in Tamatave, the ship and its crew and volunteers are expected to provide some 2,200 surgeries, and treat another 10,000 people at a land based dental clinic.

Mercy Ships was founded in 1978, and has worked in more than 70 countries providing health care. Each year, more than 1,200 volunteers from 40 countries help provide health care through the charity, which has treated over 2.5 million people since it was founded.

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