Africa Mercy ship gives Dr Sarah Lynar chance to help in Cameroon

GIVING BACK: Doctor Sarah Lynar on board the Africa Mercy - one of two hospital vessels currently operated by Mercy Ships - in Cameroon. Photo: CONTRIBUTED
GIVING BACK: Doctor Sarah Lynar on board the Africa Mercy - one of two hospital vessels currently operated by Mercy Ships - in Cameroon. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

Sarah Lynar has returned to Australia after volunteering her time and skills on board the world’s largest independent hospital ship.

Dr Lynar grew up in Orange and worked in Sydney and Wagga Wagga before joining the 400-strong crew of the Africa Mercy, one of two hospital vessels currently operated by Mercy Ships, a charity organisation which has placed hospital ships in developing nations for 40 years.

She served as one of two physicians working alongside surgeons to take care of patients during their initial screenings and throughout their treatment.

The Africa Mercy arrived in the Cameroon city of Douala in August last year, with plans to provide 4,000 life-changing surgeries on board, treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic, and provide health care training to local medical professionals during 10 months in port.

Any reservations Dr Lynar – one of six Orange-raised siblings –  held about the sea-bound, surgery-focused endeavour were quickly assuaged.

“As a physician, at first I wasn’t sure what it would be like working in a ship that was dedicated to surgery only,” she said after arriving back in Australia.

“Luckily for me, the surgeons and indeed all the health care staff were amazing and inspiring, perhaps by virtue of the fact that they are all the sort of people who would volunteer their time and skills to come to treat some of the poorest of the poor.”

In many developing countries without the same access to timely, affordable and accessible health care, a benign tumour diagnosis makes very little difference to a malignant one.

Dr Sarah Lynar

The Kinross Wolaroi School graduate said the need for her and her colleagues’ services in impoverished corners of the globe like Cameroon was almost overwhelming.

“In Australia, if someone is given a diagnosis of a benign tumour it’s a relief for them. It usually means that, as long as it’s removed, they are looking at a good prognosis,” she explained.

“In many developing countries without the same access to timely, affordable and accessible health care, a benign tumour diagnosis makes very little difference to a malignant one.

“Eventually the tumour will expand and they are likely to eventually die by asphyxiation or by compression on another vital part of their body. This shouldn’t happen in this day and age.”

ON BOARD TO HELP: Doctor Sarah Lynar on shore, with the Afirca Mercy docked behind. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

ON BOARD TO HELP: Doctor Sarah Lynar on shore, with the Afirca Mercy docked behind. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

For Dr Lynar, the notion of putting her medical skills to use on the high seas was implanted at a young age.

“I’ve known about Mercy Ships since I first read the book about its inception as a young child,” she said.

“When I was 11 we spent six months travelling which included some volunteering in the Philippines, and it was then that I truly realised I wanted to spend my life in a profession that would help me meet some of the needs I had seen.”

She described the experience of working and living in what many would describe as an abnormal environment as “addictive”.

“Although clichéd, I feel that I gain far more than I give, but I hope that perhaps at the same time there are people whose capacity is increased because of what small things the ship can offer,” Dr Lynar said.

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