priscilla: before + after

In the last few years I’ve had the privilege of watching several operations to correct bowed legs. What always astonishes me is that the process is fairly straightforward and the surgery itself doesn’t take that long. Maybe it’s because our awesome ortho-surgeon Dr. Frank just makes it all look easy…but I leave thinking “well, that wasn’t so bad?”

I guess what I’ve realized is that when we get the right people and resources and put them together on a boat ship to treat patients who need help…it’s a pretty remarkable thing. Of course, a lot of hard work (by medical staff, caregivers, translators, therapists, and the patient) went into achieving this before and after, but when I look around I can’t help but notice that, after so many years in the field, the Africa Mercy hospital is a well-oiled machine. They’ve got this bowed leg thing figured out, which is why there are many more photos like these in our future:


Have a great weekend, everyone.

Photos by Justine Forrest and Katie Keegan for Mercy Ships.


Ravette: Before and After

Back around Thanksgiving I wrote a about Ravette – the little girl with the enormous smile who had surgery to correct her inverted knees. Well, now our little lady is out of her casts and done with her physical therapy. Not only do her knees bend the right way, but she could out-strut us all in a walk-off. Someone get this girl a runway.

Needless to say, Ravette’s before and after photos are orthopedic gold. Take a look:



Are you smiling at your computer screen like a total softie now? 

Ya me too.


 Photos by Josh Callow, Copyright Mercy Ships 2014

“We came to Africa for the work, we stayed for the people.”

Tonight on a quiet street in Congo, 16 people sat around a long table on a warm patio. In their group were people from Canada, Australia, Norway, The Netherlands, England, Scotland, and the U.S. The mosquitoes were biting, but it didn’t rain. 

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy;

To humor the Americans on the night before Thanksgiving, everyone went around the table and said what we were thankful for:


10 a.m. coffee breaks.

Air conditioning.

Our families who miss us, but love us enough to let us go.


(…and Toyotas with winches.)

The responsibility we’ve been trusted with to do the things we do…and the privilege.

The little moments when we enjoy something that reminds us of home.

The people we live and work with who make us happy.

And a little girl named Ravette.


“We came to Africa for the work, we stayed for the people.”



Ravette is a 9-year-old orthopedics patient who always has a smile on her face. Always.

When Ravette was little she suffered from a leg deformity caused by quinine, a drug used to treat malaria. When the medicine was mistakenly injected into her nerve instead of the muscle, it caused her knees to grow in the wrong direction. Ravette is still in casts, but she’s learning to walk again.

This morning Ravette hobbled to my office. To get here from the hospital, you have to walk through a common area we call the café. It’s unusual to have patients walk through this part of the ship, so she quickly snagged everyone’s attention. That’s when the clapping started. Each table she walked past gave a little cheer. I’ve never seen a child with a smile as big as hers was today. 

If she had been at our table tonight, Ravette would have said she was thankful to walk again. Then she would have giggled as she listened to 16 people go around and say what they were thankful for. 

Because they were all thankful for Ravette.

What are you thankful for this year? 

Their Lives Aquatic

Last week I received an email from a friend that said, “Can you tell us about the crew? What goes on behind the scenes?”

It feels like I baked a cake and realized I forgot the eggs. The crew! My 350 neighbors from 40 different countries whose stories have gone untold here for the last year and a half because, well, I’m not sure. Daily life onboard is consumed with patients and stories and navigating (literally) our wacky lives in Africa. I forgot you might like to be introduced to all the people who make Mercy Ships possible. I don’t blame you, they are pretty groovy.

They will tell you I’ve neglected them due to my Uniform Envy, because they get to wear scrubs (read: pajamas) every day and I don’t. This is probably true. Sometimes I try to watch an early surgery so I have an excuse to wear scrubs. On those days, people say:

“Catherine – You observed in the theater today, eh?”
Me Wearing Scrubs: “Ya, Dr. Gary’s maxillo-facial mandibularectomy and then Dr. Frank’s bilateral osteotomies.” (It’s important to be wordy with official medical terms in a loud voice for credibility.)
Canadian in Scrubs: “Ya, you mean the tumor and the bowed legs?”
Me Wearing Scrubs: “Those are their street names, but yes.”
Canadian in Scrubs: “Right. Ok.” His pager goes off. He looks down, frowns. “Sorry, gotta run.”
Me Wearing Scrubs: “Oh, ya, ya. Me too. I have a thing I should really – ”

He’s gone.

The other thing about us that I’ve never told you is that we carry pagers. Yep. This is a big boat, people are hard to find. Based on our dial-up-speed-internet and our clunky hospital pagers, it is 1996 on the Africa Mercy.

Anyways, after that email I pulled together this little feature. Somewhere along the way it turned into a superlative thing. But thank you to the kind people mentioned below who have no idea that they are on this blog today. I hope your moms like what I wrote about you.

Most Likely to Have Tom Hanks Play Him in a Movie: Captain Tim Tretheway

20131110-231737.jpgYes we are a hospital, but we are also a ship. Captain Tim is a guy that you look at and think, “This guy. This guy has some pretty awesome stories.” He’s been sailing hospitals to developing nations for more than 20 years. If you think you have a cool job, multiply that times 100 and that’s how cool Captain Tim’s job is. He also has an excellent overhead announcement voice and is an advocate of closed-toed-shoes.

Most Likely to Teach A Patient How to Make a Paper Airplane: Dr. Frank Haydon, Orthopedic Surgeon

dr frank

On a recent Friday morning I walked into E Ward and found a surgeon sitting on the floor surrounded by a circle of his patients making paper snowflakes. That’s Dr. Frank, who spends as much time visiting patients in the wards as he does in the theater operating on them.

Most Likely to Instagram a Photo of Her Baby: Ali, Nurse


Ali met her husband Phil in Liberia in some hilarious scenario involving a flat tire and U.N. soldiers who only spoke Urdu. I forget the specifics. But if you’ve seen the 60 Minutes about Mercy Ships, you might remember when Ali gushed to Scott Pelley that this is “the love boat.” Well, homegirl speaks from experience. Ali and Phil got married and had Zoe, the person I really came here to tell you about –

Most Likely To Be Famous: Zoe


Zoe’s other superlative title could be ‘Most Humanitarian 1-Year-Old.’ She gets to grow up in Africa while her mom and dad work in the hospital and engineering departments respectively. There is a waitlist to babysit Zoe. Ok that last part wasn’t true but I could totally see it happening.

Most Likely to Thank You for Thanking Him: Dr. Gary Parker, Maxillofacial Surgeon


No crew feature would be complete without featuring Dr. Gary, who has been onboard for 26 years with his wife, Susan, and their two (awesome) kids. He is the longest serving surgeon and frequently wins impressive humanitarian awards that he will never tell you about. I could write an entire book about how amazingly gifted and humble he is, but humble people don’t really jibe with you when you start showering them with praise and rounds of applause in public arenas. Dr. G also gets the thrill of reviewing my stories that need medical fact checking. Surgeon by day, Editor by night. There’s nothing this man can’t do. That’s our Dr. Gary.

This won’t be the last of the crew features! These people are a pretty interesting bunch.


What else have I missed that you want to read about? Drop me a line: catherineclarkemurphy(at)gmail(dot)com

Today’s photos courtesy Mercy Ships.

It Takes Two

Well I think I owe everyone an apology, because I’ve been keeping the charming Doublemint Twins all to myself without so much as a brief update for their admirers around the globe, je suis desolée. 

As you know, the twins have had bowed legs, here is a before photo:

Since their surgery two weeks ago, Alasanne and Alseny are doing tremendously. Each one is enjoying all of the sweet attention that comes with being one-half of a fiercely cute set of twins.

  When the Doublemints first arrived onboard, my presh little princes were rather standoffish and…well, unsociable. But you wouldn’t be too thrilled either if you were plopped in a weird boat hospital to have intense corrective-leg surgery. 

And so it was that the Doublemints adopted somewhat loathsome facial expressions when they first arrived onboard  the Africa Mercy.

 Ok, so maybe they were really loathsome expressions…

(This photo makes me laugh so hard.)

To the twins’ dismay, their furrowed eyebrows and piercing eyes didn’t make them look any less darling. Rather than sending a message of ‘stay away,’ which is what I’m assuming they were going for, suddenly ‘make the twins smile’ was high on everyone’s to-do list. (Namely mine.)

“They are cute, but in an ‘angry bulldog puppy’ sort of way,” we all would agree.

 Peek-a-boo, charades, goofy songs, chicken dancing – I made a fool of myself for these two; I think I’m ready for my mime diploma. Remember the woman next to the Santa photographer? The one who bopped around with her ploys and puppet stunts trying to get you to smile? Remember how painfully unfunny she was? Yeah.

But, as our little patients always do, the boys finally came around as the last shred of my dignity faded. Of course now they don’t stop giggling and playing games and being delightful. I even have a secret handshake with Alseny. (Or is it with Alasanne?)

 At the end of last week was the first Doublemint cast change. Prior to this, their different-colored casts made for quick identification. Now, all four legs are baby blue. Then the next day they both had haircuts and changed into matching yellow hospital gowns.

I have since given up altogether on trying to tell them apart. I believe that Grandma (their caregiver who is staying here with them) gave up trying to tell her grandsons apart a long time ago. I know this because when we ask her who’s who, she shrugs. Then we ask the boys who’s who and they shrug and just point at each other and laugh the cutest laugh.

 But that’s the thing about twins, they’re always up to something and you’re always outnumbered.

 But what can you do?

After all, they were too adorable to ever be upset with in the first place. 

Am I right?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope your holiday is filled with love.


All photos from today’s post courtesy Mercy Ships photographers Debra Bell, Michelle Murrey and Bright Effowe.


On the Double

 Ever observed an ortho surgery? Let me tell ya, it’s a doozy. Kind of like the board game ‘Operation’ but with instruments from your dad’s tool kit. Medicine meets carpentry, you could say.

Don’t worry, these photos are breakfast-friendly and are just of the casts being put on:

Anywhooo I just dropped in to tell you that the back-to-back Doublemint surgeries by Doctor Frank went swimmingly! No more bowed legs over here, thankyouverymuch!

I feel like a proud father running around in my scrubs all excited-like shouting “TWINS!” If only I had some baby blue bubblegum cigars to pass out. Or perhaps some champagne?

Alrighty. I’m going to go change out of my comfy scrubs now, even though I don’t want to.


The Doublemint Twins

I’d like you to meet my boys Alasanne and Alseny.

They are known affectionately on our team as ‘The Doublemint Twins,’ and they are identical in every way, including their bowed legs.

This Friday, Nov. 9, they will both have surgery to straighten their legs. These two will finally be able to run and play and climb stairs. I don’t think I can really convey in text how excited I am.

Although I usually share the stories I write for Mercy Ships here after all is said and done, I’m too excited about this story to wait. So I’m going to give you  a ‘behind the scenes’ version as I follow these little guys over the coming weeks. 

After their surgery this Friday, there will be a long road to recovery. But soon enough, Alassane and Alseny will be out on the soccer football field – and finally able to keep up.

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