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by Liane Nakahara, student writer

An HPU assistant professor of nursing volunteered her services this summer during a Southeast Asia medical mission aboard the USNS Mercy, a U.S. Navy hospital ship. Mercy Mott spent a little more than a month overseas helping residents of a few small Indonesian islands and Bangladesh. She calls it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The entire mission, which ran from the end of May to the beginning of September, was divided into three phases. Mott volunteered for the second phase, which took her to Chittagong in Bangladesh, Simeulue Island, Nias Island, and Banda Aceh in Indonesia.

Mott said a team of doctors prescreened patients in the different locations prior to the actual mission to see who would benefit most from the medical attention. She said that during the mission, she and the rest of the medical team performed minor surgeries on land as well as others aboard the ship. In each place they visited, there were hundreds of people who stood in line in hopes of receiving medical treatment.

“ A patient told us that he walked for two days when he heard the Mercy was coming,” said Mott. “He, fortunately, was one of the patients taken on board to have a surgery.”

She said the residents of those countries needed everything, from the most simple immunizations and dental care to surgeries. Mott explained that the most common procedures requested were cleft lip and palate repair, thyroid removal, and gynecological surgeries.

Mott participated in the USNS Mercy mission through the Aloha Medical Mission (AMM), a non-profit volunteer organization in Honolulu that aims to provide free health care to underserved people in Hawai‘i and developing countries.

Dr. Carl Lum, an AMM member of 17 years, said he decided to write to the USNS Mercy mission coordinators after the AMM heard about the mission. The AMM was then invited to participate in the USNS Mercy mission. Lum said that he generally goes on about four missions a year. During the USNS Mercy mission, Lum and other AMM volunteers were able to work with the military, which is something they don’t normally do on their other missions.

“ The military culture is quite different from what we experience on our missions, but nevertheless, it was interesting and an exciting adventure,” said Lum.

Despite having to sleep on a 24-inch wide bunk bed and climbing 11 flights of stairs to get to the dining area from their sleeping area, Mott said she had a very touching and memorable experience overseas. She said that they could still see the devastating effects of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia about two years ago, but that people seemed to be coping and trees seemed to be growing again.

“ We flew over beautiful white sand beaches and lush vegetations. We landed in an open field and children came running toward us in spite of efforts by the ground crew to keep them away,” said Mott of her helicopter ride to a remote part of Simeulue Island. “I’m sure it was a nightmare for the pilot.”

Mott is a Clinical Nurse Educator at Tripler Army Medical Center, teaching nursing students from schools such as Hawai‘i Pacific University and Kapiolani Community College.

She said that she would like to go on another mission, but can’t afford to do so at this time since each volunteer must cover their own expenses. Until she saves up the $2,000 she budgets per mission, Mott said she enjoys sharing her USNS Mercy experience with her nursing students.

“ Up until that time, Vietnam was just another foreign country to me, although my youngest brother served in that war,” said Mott. “Landing in Hanoi gave me goose bumps and a realization that there is indeed such a country devastated by a war so long ago. Being there made the names ‘Saigon,’ ‘Mekong Delta’ and ‘Hanoi’ very real.”

Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.

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