31 December 2017

Welcome to the Mercy Air blog . . . . . please scroll down for new posts

Let us introduce ourselves.

Mercy Air is a Christian, non-profit organisation based in South Africa. We operate two fixed wing aircraft (Cessna 310 and a Quest Kodiak) and a two Airbus Group AS350 helicopters.

We operate out of a 600m (2000 ft) airstrip near White River in the eastern part of South Africa.
This blog is a collection of news and trip updates designed to compliment the Mercy Air web page, Face Book group and other mailed newsletters. Click on a year and read from bottom to top and it should give you a good idea of what we do.

29 April 2017

Blessed To Be A Blessing

“Why did you decide to open a preschool here in Zwigodini?”, I asked as we hobbled along over another dirt road in northern Limpopo.

Blessing, my passenger, did not take long to respond. “There is a lot of poverty in Zwigodini, and also many teenage pregnancies. The young mothers are unable to go back to finish school, so I started the preschool. I go out and try to find these young mothers, to take care of their infants and toddlers so that they are able to graduate from school and have opportunities to find a job.”

As I listened to her explanation I began to catch a glimpse into the compassionate heart of Blessing, a lady who had not only started the preschool, but who was now going through the training program to be a qualified teacher. I wondered how many of the 50 children in her preschool were growing up without a father.

Life in this part of South Africa is a daily challenge. Blessing’s own story of how she came from Zimbabwe as a young lady selling produce by the roadside is one which is not uncommon. However, I was impressed with her pro-active and enterprising spirit, as well as the way she cared for those around her, especially the children. Now that it was school holidays she was mostly at her church running the kids program. 

On one of my first trips to Northern Limpopo, Blessing had approached me with a request to help her put up some monkey bars on the kids playground. She explained that she had the metal tubing already, but didn’t know what to do next.  In February I had taken some measurements and found a local man, Samuel, who could do the welding. Now, with the volunteer help of a Bible school student, Sebastian, it was time to tackle the monkey bar project.
Although the design and plan seemed simple, we experienced the usual dose of the 'Africa' factor.  Making the concrete to anchor the unit into the ground was a team effort. Blessing’s brother provided the gravel. Some young children gathered the sand.
Blessing herself brought the precious water, bucket by bucket. The end result of our combined labour was a well-anchored, fun, new addition to the playground sure to bring many years of fun.

Blessing was excited and very thankful for all that was accomplished in the three short days we were there. As a token of appreciation she gave us a Baobab tree. (Thankfully it was a small one which fit nicely in the back of the Cessna 310). It was our pleasure to be able to bless the little Zwigodini pre-school, and I am sure that Blessing will see it as an opportunity to continue to be a blessing in her community.

Though he struggled to pronounce anything more than the word “Job”, I could understand what he wanted. He was offering to work; probably with the hope of a small wage. I looked back at the Baobab tree where Sebastian and I were working. We were almost finished with the project we had set out to do. One more coat of paint, and the monkey bar project would be complete. Not knowing what else to do, I gently told him there was no job and sent him away.
An hour later, as we were cleaning up our tools, he came back. It was now late in the morning, but there was still plenty of time to get something done. Impressed by his tenacity I looked back again over the preschool playground. It was littered with rocks which stuck out of the dry dusty sand. This was no place for barefoot toddlers to run around. I decided, the rocks had to go. Together with our new helper, Mukhethwa, we dug up the rocks and piled them next to the fence.
Sand was moved to fill in the holes. Thankfully, it was clear to him what our intentions were, and he was a great help. Some of the rocks were so big that it took two of us just to move them.
The heat of the midday sun took its toll. As we stopped for breaks, we shared our food and water and tried to chat. It was clear that Mukhethwa’s English was so limited that we could not understand each other. He spoke only the local language, Venda. 

Mukhethwa’s eagerness to work was understandable, given that he was living in Northern Limpopo. More than half of the population in that area is unemployed. It was sad to realise that without a better grasp of the English language his work options were very limited. 

Ironically the lady I had flown to Limpopo was spending her time tutoring a handful of her students to work on their level of English. They were adult women whose English proficiency was insufficient to finish the pre-school teacher course. 

It was another reminder of the importance of education for the next generation.

Thank you to all who make it possible for Mercy Air to carry out its mission in southern Africa.

Azarja for the Mercy Air team. 

17 March 2017

I Heard That - Pardon!

Recently Mercy Air flew a second time to northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. We again worked with Wilderness Safaris who are keen to look after their staff and the communities they come from. The previous flight had seen an ophthalmic team test and distribute over 100 glasses. This time we took Hlolo and Jade from Kind to Hearing as well as a doctor and some nurses.

Again, the flight was only an hour long but saved a nine hour road trip.
Paul and Jenze looking excited at the prospect of flying off into the 'wild blue yonder' on yet another Mercy Air mission trip!
We spent two days working into some of the same areas as before.
Driving to the village we experienced 'rush hour' and a bit of a traffic jam.
Patients came early in the morning, young and old, and waited eagerly to be seen
Paul was excited to meet up with this gentleman again, he had his eye sight screened on our last visit and came back today, wearing his glasses, for a hearing test. The good news was that he didn't have excessive hearing loss and no hearing aid was required.
Roger, an emergency room doctor, gave all the patients a full check up of their hearts and lungs while they waited for hearing tests.
Katy, a registered nurse, checked ears for signs of infection or wax build up, some needed wax to be removed so drops were inserted and wax scooped out.
This is the same guy who got excited about being able to see the world 'so colourful' after our sight flight. He came back for a hearing test and apart from some wax that  had to be scooped out he was fine. Katy showed excellent 'scooping skills' with the use of this little gadget. No further treatment required!
Cathy checked ears for any foreign bodies, sometimes people clean their ears with a stick or grass. She also looked for wax build up and infection, which we could treat if found.

These lovely ladies were waiting for us when we arrived along with another 70 people. Phyllis, the lady in the blue dress, had been suffering from hearing loss for many years. She was seen in a clinic a year ago but was not given a hearing test or any treatment.
Cathy checked her ears for any obvious reason for the hearing loss but there was no sign of infection or wax build up.
She was then tested by Hlolo, one of the audiologists from 'Kind to Hearing' and it was found that she had profound hearing loss in her right ear and reduced hearing in her left ear. A mold was taken of her ear canal and a hearing aid will be made for her in Pretoria.
Phyllis was very happy to finally have the possibility of being able to hear again!
Samuel could hear very little in his left ear and not so well in his right ear either, he'd had many years of being unable to hear his families voices and be part of conversations.
His ear canal was measured using this handy gadget, light included.
The hearing tests required careful concentration, for most people listening to beeps and sound was a new experience, although those with hearing loss had difficulty hearing some beeps
During the hearing test patients had to indicate when they heard a sound from the head phone by raising their hand or finger. This was challenging at times as there was a lot of other noise around.

Hlolo carefully fitted  the earphones and explained what Ntembela should listen for.
She had to indicate when ever she heard a sound by raising her hand on the side that she heard the sound.
Waiting patiently for many hours in the hot sun, good that she came with this colourful umbrella.
This guy had quite a bit of wax in his ears and could hear much better once it was flushed out.
Around 60 children had hearing screening, and although we found quite a lot of wax and other goop including some bits of stick, none of them needed hearing aids.
Some of the children had nasty skin infections, this young lad reported that some sap from a tree dripped on his ear and caused these sores. He was treated and hopefully will improve soon.
This little girl had healthy ears and no hearing problems.
This lady was very happy to have her hearing checked as she had difficulty hearing for a long time, she was found to be deaf. 
So our audiologist got busy making a mould for a hearing aid. She should receive it in May on our next hearing and sight mission.
Here is Jade, one of our audiologists using his skills to test one of the children.
This girl was very happy to be tested and could hear perfectly.
Samson was found to be having hearing loss and needed a hearing aid so here he is with a successful mould and a hearing aid will be made to exactly fit his ear canal.
The process involved inserting a thread into the ear canal that could be used to remove the mould once it was set. Having things pocked into your ears required trust and it was great to have skilled audiologists to perform the task.
Sticky blue gunk was squirted in to the ear canal and the patient had to sit nice and still while it set in about 10 minutes.
Hlolo doing what he does best.
This lady experiencing the strange sensation of having 'sticky stuff' squirted into her ear, she's reassured that it will all be worth it in the end!.
Cathy and Katy did some general heath checks including checking blood pressure, we found some cases of un-diagnosed hypertension and and treatment could be started.
On the way home on the second day we could see an African storm brewing on the horizon, which is always exciting but especially when your vehicle has no window!
We arrived back at camp a little bit soggy but on the up side we jumped in to the 30C pool and enjoyed some fun and games!
Later, on the path on our way down to supper we met this mama and her nine babies, she was carrying them 'African style' on her back while she caught supper, which was some quite agitated ants! Paul was walking bare foot so good job his wife spotted this lady!
So time to go home after a successful mission, great to work with these amazing people!
Paul flew us back in style in the Mercy Air Kodiak, and Jense flew in the co- pilot seat and enjoyed some trivia and patter from Paul!
Back at Mercy Air, thank you for your support and interest!
Thank you

Mercy Air team

21 February 2017

Breath of Life in the Switzerland of Africa

In February, Mercy Air had the privilege of partnering with The Ohio State University when they traveled to Swaziland to provide training in Neonatal Survival. Roger and Katy Pacholka from In His Name Ministries and partners of Mercy Air have had many years of involvement with one of the major hospitals in Swaziland and offered assistance in helping to reduce the infant mortality rate by providing training.

The Swazi Department of Health embraced the idea and a group of neonatal nurse practitioners, a neo-natologist and nurse midwives from The Ohio State University ran a course for three weeks on ‘Helping Babies Breath’ and Neonatal survival. Cathy from Mercy Air was privileged to be part of the team as a nurse/midwife.

The course had 21 participants and included nurses, midwives, doctors and pediatricians from six hospitals in Swaziland.
It included theoretical class room sessions and practical training on manikins, learning the skill of using the bag valve mask.
Students were taught how to give babies ventilation and assess the heart rate working together as a team.

A lot of concentration and co-ordination was required!
Some interesting, fun role play simulating a delivery  (even the guys had a go giving birth) and care  of the baby immediately after birth.
Women come from villages far away up to a month before their due date and wait in this expectant mother's house. It's very basic but beats having your baby along the road or in a taxi.
Women in early labour wait outside the labour ward and are left to cope with their pain alone.
In the labour and delivery room there is very little privacy and the mothers labour without support from their relatives.
After all the hard work this lady was very tired but grateful to have a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
After the delivery the babies are brought to another room where they are given further resuscitation if needed. Our students assessed them and used their new skills.
There is a high HIV positive rate amongst the population of Swaziland but prevention of mother to child transmission (PMCT) is helping to reduce this. Babies born to HIV positive mothers are started on ARV's immediately after birth.
Babies were given a full examination by our students to detect any abnormalities.

Our students did a Ballard Test to determine the gestational age of the babies, a useful tool as many of the women are unsure of their due date.

Rubbing a baby to stimulate it.
Some babies required oxygen after delivery to help their transition into life outside the womb.

Examination of the babies after delivery is part of the training, here the student is listening to the heart to detect any murmurs.
Dr. Louis, a neo-natologist worked in the special care baby unit giving support and advice.

This tiny baby girl weighed in at only 900 grams, after being assessed we found that she was 31 weeks old.
Here she is after a couple of days, doing well and enjoying some skin to skin contact with mummy. Kangaroo care is frequently used for these premature babies.
An interesting case was of a mother, Futhi, who was in labour for most of the day and failed to progress so was transferred to theater for cesarean section. She was very afraid that her baby might die.
Skilled doctors delivered this strapping boy by cesarean section.
Our students together with instructors were present at the birth and provided resuscitation of a  baby boy.
He weighed in at 4.7 kg (10.34 lbs)!
Our students did a great job of keeping him warm, stimulating him and clearing his airways. He thanked them with a vigorous cry.

Cathy with the baby a day after his birth.
A very relieved, happy mummy and baby!
A baby abandoned whilst the team was at the hospital also gets care.
These lovely ladies (some of our students) are getting ready for graduation.
Thank you.

The Mercy Air team.