Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Catherine, 18, was facing certain death for both herself and her baby when nurse Aly heard her cries; today, the pair have been reunited after 30 years and are volunteering together on board Mercy Ships’ (www.MercyShips.Africa) newest hospital ship in Catherine’s home country of Sierra Leone.

A woman was reunited this week (https://apo-opa.info/3F7vIFm) with a nurse who saved her life 30 years ago as she volunteers for the same charity that her rescuers were from.

In 1993, Catherine Conteh was enduring an agonising four-day labour in a hospital bed in Sierra Leone, where she faced the certain death of both herself and her daughter.

But the 18-year-old’s cries were heard by a New Zealand nurse and British anaesthetist who were volunteering on one of international charity Mercy Ships’ (http://www.MercyShips.org.uk/) floating hospitals off the coast off Freetown.

Aly Hogarth-Hall and Dr Keith Thomson were touring Princess Christian Maternity Hospital when Aly heard a woman in pain.

Aly, now 52, said: “With Catherine being in labour for four days, the nurse told me that she would die, and the baby would die. It was communicated in a very matter of fact way, which shocked me – that this was going to be the outcome without any intervention. I’d never encountered anything like that.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I thought, I’ll pray for this woman and hand it over to God.”

As Aly’s prayer ended, 30 years ago, amazingly, help arrived. On hearing Catherine’s story, Dr Thomson offered to pay for the surgery out of his own pocket in full.

Despite the stress of the four-day labour, both Catherine and her baby, a daughter named Regina, were completely healthy.

Catherine did get the help she needed; however, in Sierra Leone, 26 years later in 2019, 717 mothers die annually for every 100,000 live births, according to WHO (https://apo-opa.info/3rv3FNh). [1] This is among the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world.  

Looking back on that day, Catherine recalled what she thought: “I will lose my life. If nothing happens, I will lose my life. That kept on playing right in my heart, in my mind.”

She remembers a hospital nurse telling her: “Look, these strangers who came in are going to pay for your caesarean section. So we’re just waiting for the doctor to come in, and then we can start the process.

“All Aly did was pray for me, at that moment. She prayed for me. And which I valued and I’m grateful to God for that, you know? ‘Cause praying for someone, for me, is like a currency that you can buy anything with.”

After the emergency caesarean, Aly and Catherine formed a lifelong bond. Along with American Gina Willig, Aly visited her in the hospital wards while she recovered.

“I call her sister and she calls me sister,” said Catherine, “because it takes a pure heart and someone with pure love, meeting someone and instantly loving them unconditionally, you know?”

They parted ways as Aly returned to New Zealand while Catherine had to gain asylum in Australia with her family in the wake of growing conflict of her home country of Sierra Leone.

The two women lost touch through the years, but Catherine held Aly close in her heart. Her daughter grew up knowing their lives were saved by the kindness of strangers and both Catherine and Regina became nurses – just like Aly.

Dr Thomson reunited Aly and Catherine by phone before he passed away in April this year after a battle with cancer.

Catherine said: “Hearing her voice again, after almost three decades, was a bit emotional for me. My hope for me and Aly is to physically see ourselves and give ourselves that sisterly hug. And get to praise God together, you know?”

Reunited

Thirty years later, on October 1, she was reunited with Aly as they volunteer together on board international charity Mercy Ships’ latest hospital ship, the Global Mercy™, as it delivers more than 2,350 surgeries over the next 10 months.

It was the first time they had seen each other since the hospital room in Freetown.

Aly is volunteering on board the Global Mercy with her husband for three months during its field service in Sierra Leone. For Catherine, who was coming on board the hospital ship to volunteer in the dining room, the moment held an even deeper meaning.

Catherine said: “To see her in person again, I couldn’t believe it. We just sobbed. We cried and cried.

“The other aspect is it’s my hometown where I was born. I’m coming home to come and serve, not only Mercy Ships but my country.”

Aly said: “To see Catherine again, it’s very surreal really, and it’s not something I ever expected until we made contact again, 18 months ago or so. That’s something I never expected to do, so it was overwhelming really.”

The pair reflected on Dr Thomson and how much it would have meant to him to see them together.

Aly said: “This is his legacy in a way. This is a tribute to him in a lot of ways because his dream was for us to come together here, and he realised that before he passed away.”

Catherine said she made the journey from Australia, propelled by the encouragement of her daughter, Regina, now a 30-year-old mother to a young son.

She added: “It’s a privilege for me, serving. Apart from being my people, any aspect of serving somebody is a privilege because you may not have that privilege tomorrow, so if you have it today, it’s a blessing by itself. I felt so blessed to come back and serve my people.”

The pair will spend the next month volunteering while the ship’s crew carry out surgeries and train more than 200 Sierra Leonean healthcare professionals.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Mercy Ships.

For more information contact:
Sophie Barnett
Media&PR Advisor
Mercy Ships UK
Phone: +44 (0)1438 727 800
Email: [email protected]
https://apo-opa.info/46cy1TC

Diane Rickard
International Media Relations Manager
Mercy Ships
[email protected]
https://apo-opa.info/44mzxke

About Mercy Ships:
Mercy Ships operates hospital ships that deliver free surgeries and other healthcare services to those with little access to safe medical care. An international faith-based organisation, Mercy Ships has focused entirely on partnering with African nations for the past three decades. Working with in-country partners, Mercy Ships also provides training to local healthcare professionals and supports the construction of in-country medical infrastructure to leave a lasting impact.

Each year, more than 3,000 volunteer professionals from over 60 countries serve on board the world’s two largest non-governmental hospital ships, the Africa Mercy® and the Global Mercy™. Professionals such as surgeons, dentists, nurses, health trainers, cooks, and engineers dedicate their time and skills to accelerate access to safe surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic care. Mercy Ships was founded in 1978 and has offices in 16 countries as well as an Africa Service Centre in Dakar, Senegal. For more information, visit MercyShips.org and follow @ MercyShips on social media.

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