THEY cannot speak each other’s language but Gisborne woman and nurse Maria Kuo can still communicate with her patient Mariama Bungura with smiles and care.
Mrs Kuo (nee Foxley) is on board a floating hospital off the coast of Guinea in West Africa as a volunteer with her new husband Freddy Kuo.
The Gisborne couple are living their dream as volunteers to serve West Africa’s poor on board the hospital ship called Africa Mercy, operated by the charity Mercy Ships.
Mrs Kuo has swapped her night shifts at Gisborne Hospital’s emergency department for night shifts on board the seven-storey ship that has capacity to care for 70 patients at a
Her first two weeks on board were helping to provide post-surgical care to Guinea woman Ms Bungura. A tumour was removed and a metal plate attached to replace her lower jaw bone.
Though they did not speak each other’s language, Mrs Kuo said they would share lots of laughs and she sometimes visited Ms Bungura after-hours.
“We would talk through a translator and with body language, and I became pretty good at guessing what she was trying to tell me.”
It is Mrs Kuo’s second tour of duty on board a Mercy Ship and she wanted to share the “life-changing” experience with her new husband.
While Mrs Kuo nurses in one of the ship’s wards, Mr Kuo is volunteering in the stewards department on board the floating hospital. His role is to maintain the high standard of cleanliness and hygiene necessary for the hospital ship to operate in the challenging circumstances encountered in the developing nations they serve.
Anchored off the coast of Guinea, the Kuos left their Gisborne home and are volunteering for two months as part of the 450-strong international crew aboard the world’s largest non-government hospital ship.
The ship has general and intensive care wards and six operating theatres. The theatres are supported by an onboard pathology lab, X-ray and CAT-scan, and pharmacy — everything medically required to be self-sufficient in the delivery of world-class services.
Life expectancy in Guinea, West Africa, is only 55 years. There is only one doctor for every 10,000 people and one dentist for every 200,000.
The mercy ship will remain in port for a further nine months providing a range of free health care services for Guinea’s poorest people. Ashore, thousands of dental patients are treated every week in a temporary clinic. On board, surgeries are performed for hundreds suffering from conditions such as cleft lip and palate, dense cataracts, burns, contractures and massive, life-threatening tumours.