Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medical Mission Ship Comes Home for 3-Week Visit; Floating Hospital Serves Needy in Poor Countries; Volunteers Are Needed for Voyage to Honduras

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Medical Mission Ship Comes Home for 3-Week Visit; Floating Hospital Serves Needy in Poor Countries; Volunteers Are Needed for Voyage to Honduras

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein, The Times-Union

The white-hulled Caribbean Mercy looked as if it had sailed off the page of a travel agency's brochure when it docked Wednesday on downtown's Northbank.

But its passengers were not on a pleasure trip. The Caribbean Mercy, which calls Jacksonville its home port, travels to Third World countries and dispenses free medical care.

For the next three weeks it will be docked near the Adam's Mark hotel, where Mercy Ships International will open the ship for tours and seek volunteers for its next voyage to Honduras.

Those who sign on will join a multi-national crew speaking several languages. The work involves the kind of chores -- cooking and cleaning -- that are nothing to write home about.

The reward comes from seeing how the collective work of the volunteers results in better lives for those who gain medical treatment, volunteers said.

Jacksonville resident Missy Sturney, 21, recalled how she removed an eye patch from an elderly man in Belize who had undergone cataract surgery. Her face was one of the first he saw with his restored vision.

"You're soaked and you're covered with sweat" when doing work on the ship's upkeep, Sturney said. "And then you take a patch off someone's eye and you realize that if you weren't there, the surgeons wouldn't be there, and you kind of feel like you're part of this web."

The Caribbean Mercy originally was a Norwegian cruise ship. Mercy Ships International bought it and converted it to a kind of floating hospital. The makeover was done in Jacksonville. In 1994, the ship was ready for its new use and it has gone on seven voyages since then. Doctors who volunteer for the program typically fly to the port where the ship docks.

The advantage of the ship is it offers flexibility in where the relief efforts go, said Ginnie Speiser, a spokeswoman for Mercy Ships International, based in Garden Valley, Texas.

"It gives us the opportunity to reach more people, bottom-line," she said.

The ship won't offer medical assistance while it's in Jacksonville. The time spent here will be to resupply for the next trip and seek more volunteers. The ship has about a 150-member crew. …

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