Friday, December 8, 2017

Africa Mercy - Frank's Story: One Nurse's Story

More from Marilyn in Africa....  Sorry these postings are so late!  My friend, as you know, is in Africa serving as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. She emails me and I share her words with you. For those of you who know nothing of  Marilyn's story, the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship that travels the African coast with a crew of nurses and doctors. They come from all over to give of their time as volunteers. 

2017-10-19, Thursday

Cataract surgeries are well underway now. Our goal is to do 30
cataract surgeries per day, but for now, we are only doing 20 per
day. Since this is a new country for Mercy Ships, we don't yet
have widespread recognition or reputation. Many people have not
heard about us; others are cautious, waiting to see how others
fare. But already, within a couple of weeks, the line of people
waiting for screening has grown from about 200 per day to over 600
per day. I predict that very soon, we will be operating at full

I want to tell you about one young man. Frank is age 17 and has
been blind for 11 years with bilateral cataracts. The
communications department is always on the lookout for good stories
to use in advertising Mercy Ships, and we thought Frank's story
would be of interest. Frank and his parents agreed to have a media
team follow him through the whole process. Amber was the nurse who
scheduled his surgery and who suggested his story, so she was
invited to go with the media team to visit Frank in his home before
surgery. I'm going to quote from her blog about that visit:

"Frank's home wasn't much, but they welcomed us in with such joy. I
was able to meet Frank's Father, older brother, Mother and the
little neighbor baby. There was no way we would have found his
house on our own, so Frank's older brother met us at one of the
major junctions and drove in with us to guide our path. As we
turned down a few dirt roads off the busy city streets, we arrived
at Frank’s house. We pulled up next to a muddy river, filled with
trash and old canoes that were used to transport these huge logs
that were brought in from an island to be chopped up and sold in
the city for firewood.

On the other side of the road was an old cargo shipping container
with a few sheets of metal lined up to create a wall in between one
doorway and the next. There was a metal piece that served as a door
that led into a back alley-like area which led to Frank's house and
a few others. Below our feet was uneven dirt mixed with dirty water
and trash, along with old wood shavings from the woodworkers that
worked right outside the front of their house. Frank’s brother led
us down the narrow pathway, right to their front door.

Their front door was a thin, once-white sheet that had many tears
on it, hanging from a bar above the doorway. The walls were wood
panels that you could see through- occasionally with metal pieces
patching up the larger gaps, nailed to the side. The roof was made
of tin and as we sat down in their living room it started to rain.
It was hard to hear each other talk from the piercing of the drops
above our heads. Suddenly I began to feel drops land on my shoulder
from a rusted hole in the roof. The floors were mostly compacted
down dirt, but when the rain started to fall, small areas became a
bit muddy. The walls were mostly bare, beside an old wedding
picture of Frank's Father and his first wife, Frank's Mother. There
was an old box TV in the corner; it was on when we came in, but had
a very fuzzy and distorted image on the screen.

We spent about 3 hours at Frank's house and learned a lot about him
and his life. He was pretty shy-- and like most teenagers,
responded to the questions with one word answers. After we
finished getting to know him a little better, the communications
team asked if they could do a little filming and photography, which
I will be sure to share as soon as the story is finished. I watched
for a little bit as they shot Frank's pictures. As I watched Frank
stand there, getting his picture taken- there was this emptiness in
him—a blank stare and a look that just went right into my soul. I
later found out from his brother that, as a child, Frank was one of
those kids who was always happy and smiling. He loved making people
laugh and being the center of attention... The entire time we were
at his house, we could hardly get a smile out of him. I think the
only time I even saw a smirk is when we complimented him on what a
handsome, young man he was."

Amber goes on to say what an impact this visit had on her. If you
want to read her entire blog, it’s
Meanwhile, Frank had his surgery a couple of days ago. It was a
bit disappointing when we took the patches off the day after
surgery—his vision hadn’t improved very much. Frank was stoic, but
I think it hit him pretty hard. BUT, his eye pressure was high and
his corneas were cloudy—that happens frequently immediately after
surgery. A little medication and a little time, and his vision
improved quite a bit. It is likely to continue to improve over the
next few days.

So, stay tuned…



Yesterday was a rough day for the eye team, and Amber in
particular. It was an even rougher day for Frank and his family.
He returned for a recheck of his eyes yesterday afternoon. The
cataracts are gone, the new lenses are in position, the corneas are
clear, the eye pressures are normal, the retinas look great…but he
doesn’t see much of anything. Woody feels that his vision will not
improve any further; perhaps the neural pathways didn’t develop
properly. What really makes the whole situation worse, however, is
that by making him a communications story, we raised his hopes and
expectations. We couldn’t have known…but that isn’t helping much
right now. At this point, there’s nothing more we can do for
Frank. We’ve prayed for his healing, which the Lord could
certainly do without our assistance, but if he doesn’t, Frank will
not be able to work, or even cross the street without assistance.

I doubt I would have shared Frank’s story if I’d known the ending
before I wrote about him. It’s always more fun to talk about the
successes, like the lady today who was so exuberant in her
rejoicing. But the reality is, we are limited in what we can do.
The eye is a very complicated organ, most of which we cannot
repair. Nine out of ten people who come to us with eye problems
cannot be helped. Frank’s story was a sobering reminder of our

I suppose that I should write something uplifting to change the
mood of this email…but I haven’t the heart for it right now. The
eye team will recover and go on…but today is a day for grieving.


"Explanation of Frank's Poor Vision?"

Amber wrote a beautiful blog about the whole experience with Frank. I
would encourage anyone interested to check it out at Not only does it give further
information about Frank, it reveals Amber's tender heart.

One possible explanation for Frank's poor vision despite a successful
surgery and healthy-looking eyes could be that he had small, central
cataracts at birth. He would have used his peripheral vision until the
cataracts grew too large, but he never used the central portion of his
visual field due to the cataracts. Ordinarily, our neural connections
develop in response to stimulation; unused neurons do not develop. If
the neurons are not stimulated by the age of five or so, the process
solidifies, and later stimulation no longer triggers neural development.

If Frank had had surgery at age one or two, he'd be fine. But at age
17, it was too late. So, what he has now, and will have, is a bit of
peripheral vision, but not enough to be functional.

We are planning to do some pediatric cataract surgery in January.
Hopefully, we'll get to those kids in time...


Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing


  1. That's sad about Frank! Poor kid. You only get the success stories in promotions and tnd to think it's all success. I donate each year to the Fred Hollows Foundation, which goes to countries with a lot of people who can't afford treatment for fixable blindness. $25 is all it takes to treat one person. I hand over more than that, of course! But I wonder, now, how many sad stories FHF workers could tell. I guess you just do what you can.

    An Interview With Deborah Abela

    1. Hi Sue. Isn't that the truth? Wonderful you donate to a foundation for blindness. People used to give more to least that's my impression. Times are tight financially for so many now, yet $25 is a mere drop here in the U.S. and it can do so much more in a third world country. Makes you think!

  2. How sad that things didn't work out as hoped. Still, the others they are helping is invaluable.

    1. Yes so true. It must be discouraging to witness losses such as that experienced by Frank, but the benefits of this medical ministry sure outweigh the downsides. Thanks for commenting, Tonya!


"Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary
(A.B. Alcott). Stay and visit awhile. Your comments mean a lot to me.

About Me

My photo
You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.