Amy Dirksen Makes An Impact One By One In West Africa

By JoJo Beattie. Mercy Ships Canada celebrates the return of one of their dedicated nurses, Amy Dirksen, and her contribution to the 10th year of Mercy Ships involvement in the effort to reduce maternal and infant mortality (Millennium Development Goal #5) through fistula surgeries and education. Dirksen worked onboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship, Africa Mercy, with obstetric fistula patients from January 19 to May 26, 2013 in Conakry, Guinea.
Dirksen describes Africa, living and working onboard the Africa Mercy, as “eye-opening, heart-breaking, nauseating, and incredibly breathtakingly beautiful all at the same time.”

Obstetric fistula is a preventable and mostly treatable condition that primarily affects young women from poor backgrounds. Fistula is one of the most devastating of all pregnancy-related disabilities. Usually the result of obstructed labor coupled with a lack of skilled medical care, obstetric fistula most often leads to permanent incontinence.

Growing up in Abbotsford, BC, Dirksen has always wanted to work with a well-established medical missions organization who could provide holistic care in developing countries.

Dirksen, who heard of Mercy Ships during nursing school, conquered her fear of boats to find the experience she was looking for. “Mercy Ships is a well-run organization that provides excellent health care in a well-equipped environment. They promote holistic health care, with a focus on health promotion, and have programs in other areas separate from medical” says Dirksen.

Since 2003, Mercy Ships surgeons have performed more than 2880 procedures to correct obstetric fistula and related issues on 2490 patients onboard our hospital ships in Africa. Dirksen has volunteered her time and skills and paid her own way to help with these efforts.

AmyWithPatient1The nurse found her work with obstetric fistula patients to be at times difficult, but every moment spent with each patient was an invaluable one.

” I was challenged with the amount of relational work as opposed to the clinical work that I am used to. Although the language barrier was a bit difficult to hurdle at first, I quickly found out that hugs, smiles, charades, simple words in their languages, and simply sitting beside them spoke volumes” said Dirksen.

Socially, more than 90% of women affected by obstetric fistula are rejected from their husbands and society due to their childlessness. They become social outcasts, isolated from family, friends, village and religious life. They work alone, eat alone, and are not allowed to cook for anyone else. They sleep in separate huts and often end up on the streets, begging for their survival. With the fistula repair, emotional and spiritual hope and healing can restore women to their families and societies.

“This group of patients do not receive visitors. The patients in the other wards usually have visitors that come every evening, but these ladies have been isolated for so long that they don’t have friends who come to see them. The most beautiful thing was watching them dance with joy during the dress ceremonies to celebrate their healing”

According to the UNFPA, motherhood remains a risky endeavor – every two minutes a woman dies in childbirth. While progress has been made in addressing and preventing the devastating condition of obstetric fistula, significantly more must be done in order to treat the approximately 3.5 million women and girls still living with the debilitating condition, as well as the almost 100,000 who develop it every year. (1)

Dirksen has contributed towards 63 surgeries performed onboard the Africa Mercy on women suffering from obstetric fistula and has helped hope be reborn. The nurse returns to her job in July, practicing on a surgical unit at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Center (ARHCC).

Watch a video about women who have received hope and healing from obstetric fistula with Mercy Ships here:

Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class health care services, capacity building and sustainable development to those without access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, impacting more than 2.42 million direct beneficiaries. Each year Mercy Ships has more than 1,600 volunteers from over 45 nations. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time. For more information click on

For More Information Contact:
JoJo Beattie, Communications and Public Relations Coordinator
Mercy Ships Canada

Pictures courtesy of Michelle Murrey, 2013 Mercy Ships

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