Becki Dillingham’s mission of Mercy

Becki Dillingham’s mission of Mercy

The Dillinghams arrived in Madagascar just a month before MAF’s marine partner Mercy Ships, the largest charitable floating hospital ship in the world, docked in the eastern port of Tamatave.

MAF has assisted Mercy Ships from the beginning and pilot Becki was among the first to tour the ship’s wards and surgical theatres before the first patients arrived.

MAF flew the ships team to 16 different regions to screen prospective patients. Because they could fly, the Mercy Ships team were able to screen many more people living in remote corners of the country giving them the opportunity to receive life-changing surgery.

Having the right tools to do the job has been essential. MAF's smallest aircraft the Cessna 182 is economical and perfect for carrying patients and small teams of specialists to and from the hospitals.

The Africa Mercy, the hospital ship run by Mercy Ships, in Madagascar

The need

Flying across a country renowned for its biodiversity and incredible natural beauty is a dream come true for pilot Becki, who has nurtured her passion for flying ever since her first flying lesson at the age of nine. But Becki knows better than most that hidden beneath the miles upon miles of rainforest, mountains and even desert landscape are pockets of need and some of the highest rates of child malnutrition anywhere in the world. A patient in Madagascar with goitre - MAF

Malnutrition brings with it raft of health conditions that can result in a lifetime of misery to those afflicted. Conditions such as hernia, goitres and burns are easily treatable. But for many, terrible roads, tremendous physical barriers, and seasonal rains stand between them and treatment in the nearest hospital.

Teamwork in Jesus’ name

It was the clear medical need that bought the Mercy Ships vessel the Africa Mercy to come to Madagascar and to extend their stay once in the country. A close partnership has built up between MAF and Mercy Ships described by Country Director, Bert van den Bosch as ‘teamwork in Jesus’ name. Both organisations are clearly encouraged by the amazing ways they have seen God at work.

MAF planes have flown patients, to the ship’s surgical wards from areas like Bekodoka, where MAF supports long-term medical outreaches by another MAF partner, Philadelphie. Becki flew two patients, Jean Laurent and Salanto Christine back home to Bekodoka in November after successful procedures, grateful for the help they both received.

Jean Laurent and Salanto Christine, patients helped by MAF and Mercy Ships in Madagascar. Cessna 182 SMA

Flying for Lifebox

‘Mercy Ships aims to leave a legacy in the countries they visit not only by changing peoples' lives through free surgery, but by also providing basic equipment and training in hospitals throughout the country’, Becki explains.

A pulse oximeter, distributed by Mercy Ships and MAF as ‘Lifeboxes’ to hospitals in MadagascarAmong the interventions she has seen are the distribution of ‘Lifeboxes’ which she explains is ’a pulse oximeter that clips onto your finger during surgery raising an alarm if the oxygen level in your blood drops, warning the doctors that they need to take action before it is too late. In many hospitals, you are more likely to die from unsafe surgery than the condition or disease that you've got’ Becki sadly reflects. 

The reality is that across the developing world, the majority receiving emergency surgery, around 80% of all patients, are women, often suffering serious complications around childbirth. When such a simple intervention like the Lifebox can save the lives of so many new mothers, the impact of every MAF flight is multiplied.   

‘The ship's Medical Capacity Team will visit each hospital twice while the ship is in Madagascar’ Becki explains. Having finished their initial training in all 16 regions, she is now flying them around the country for follow up visits to deliver Life Boxes and staff training.

Stormy weather

The flights themselves have not always gone smoothly, the challenges of the tropical environment meant that Becki was stranded in Mandritisara for several nights on a recent trip with a partner from Medical Aid International (MAI). 

Departing for a remote hospital in Sambava Becki got only 20 miles into the flight before realising the thunderstorms were ‘too big to fly over, under or around’; forcing a return to Mandritsara.

‘After a night listening to the heavy rain and wondering how wet the grass airstrip was going to be’ Becki reflects, ‘I pulled up the satellite picture on my phone to see a tropical depression sitting over us’. To be safe, departure would have to be delaying by another day.    

When they finally arrived in a very hot Sambava two days later, the survey of medical equipment was resumed and Becki’s language skill were put to good use translating French into English as they toured the hospital. Sambava in the North East of the country is a coastal town only reachable by boat or plane and the tight time scale for the survey meant there was no alternative but to fly on this occasion.

 Medical equipment at Sambava, Madagascar. Credit: MAF

Here to stay…

When the Africa Mercy sets sail for its next destination in June it will leave many lives transformed through surgery, and a legacy of improved medical equipment in many of the nation’s hospitals.  Thanks to your support MAF will continue serving remote and isolated people in need of healthcare through medical safaris, flying doctors to remote hospitals and through emergency medical flights. 

MAF Cessna 182 SMA aircraft in Madagascar