Charlotte nurse helps change lives on African mercy ship
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Saturday, Jul. 26, 2014

Charlotte nurse helps change lives on African mercy ship

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/23/14/34/kjcxj.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - Courtesy of Mercy Ships
    Charlotte nurse Julianna Clair in front of Africa Mercy Ship that she worked on this past year.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/23/14/34/1pOD3M.Em.138.jpeg|476
    - Courtesy of Mercy Ships
    Julianna Clair talks with a patient on Africa Mercy Ship in Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/23/14/34/zMTT8.Em.138.jpeg|473
    Deb Louden - Deb Louden
    Julianna Clair poses in Mercy Ship hospital with her patient, Natacha.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/23/14/34/1cGBVX.Em.138.jpeg|476
    Michelle Murrey - COURTESY OF MICHELLE MURREY
    Julianna Clair sits with an infant patient on Mercy Ship docked in Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo

Moving 6,000 miles from home is no easy feat, but the move has been more than worthwhile for Julianna Clair.

Clair, 26, left her home in Matthews for Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo, last August to work with Mercy Ships, an international faith-based organization founded in 1978 by Don Stephens to increase access to health care. The Africa Mercy, the ship Clair works on, is the last of four ships purchased by the organization.

They require that volunteers cover their own living expenses, which Clair does through a donation page on their website.

While on the ship, Clair worked as part of the maxillofacial unit, performing cleft lip and palate repairs and tumor removals from the jaw, cheek and neck.

Clair and her colleagues served patients from all over Congo thanks to the ship’s screening team that traveled deep into the country to find patients. Connecting with patients is what Clair said was her favorite part of the trip.

“The culture of West and Central Africa is still very superstitious,” Clair said. “So when a child is born with a birth defect, or a tumor begins growing on an adult, they isolate them from the community as it is assumed that they are demon possessed.”

Ostracized because of their appearance, children are not allowed to go to school and adults cannot get a job.

“When first admitted to the hospital, patients seemed so hopeless and withdrawn,” Clair said. “For years, they had been suffering with these physical deformities and the emotional abandonment from their communities. So not only were we healing the patients physically with surgery, but also emotionally through love and acceptance.”

Acceptance came 15 years later for one of Clair’s patients whose nose was cut off during the civil war in Congo. Surgeons gave him a nose made of skin from his scalp.

“He was in shock for a bit after seeing himself with a nose for the first time in 15 years,” Clair said, “His transformation was just incredible.”

That, however, is not the only thing Clair described as incredible.

“The Congolese people are so friendly and lively,” Clair said, “Community is such a big part of their culture and the people were constantly helping one another. Even on the ship, the patients were always taking care of each other.”

Caring for people has always been part of Clair’s plan, even while she was studying nursing at Lenoir-Rhyne University. However, her desire to get involved in medical missions came after a college mission trip to Mexico. Clair worked in the intensive care unit for four years at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro before going to Mercy Ships.

Clair said in September she will return to the African Mercy Ship for about three months. Over the next year, the ship will serve Cotonou, Benin, in West Africa, she said.

Tahira Benjamin: 704-358-5009

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