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Quincy Native Enjoys Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity Helping the Worlds Poor

Stacy Adams wants to use her nursing skills to help people who live in the world's poorest countries.

For now, she's touching lives in war-torn Liberia.

The Quincy native has been onboard the Africa Mercy, the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship, since June. The ship is the latest to be added to the fleet of Mercy Ships, a global charity that has operated floating hospitals in developing nations since 1978.

"I originally signed up for two months," said Adams, a 2002 Quincy High School graduate and daughter of Jim and Jean Adams of Quincy. "That's already passed and I'm still here."

She plans to stay in Liberia until mid-December.

Adams, 23, is a non-paid volunteer onboard the ship, which is expected to provide more than 7,000 free, life-changing surgeries a year, including eye surgeries, facial reconstruction, ear, nose and throat procedures and orthopedic surgeries.

"I'm a nurse on the eye team," Adams said.

Often, she is the first person that a previously blind patient will see when his or her eye patch is removed the day after cataract surgery.

"The elderly ladies, they're the best," Adams said. "A lot of them come in completely blind with cataracts but they know your voice. They come back (the day after surgery) and before you take the patch off they already know who you are. Then they see you for the first time, and suddenly they cry, 'Oh Stacy!'"

The eye team, which has about seven members, performs about 60 surgeries a day, Adams said.

In addition to cataract removal, the eye team also straightens crossed eyes in children and performs other procedures for children and adults that improve their quality of life.

Adams says there's a dramatic need for Mercy Ships' presence in Liberia. With less than 30 doctors for the nation's 3.3 million people, its health infrastructure was decimated by a 14-year civil war.

She knows other developing countries throughout the world, particularly in Africa, face similar crises.

"It's really been laid on my heart lately, Africa can't save itself. It's going to need help and it's going to need help from everywhere," she said.

Following the example of Jesus, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the forgotten poor, mobilizing people and resources worldwide, and serving all people without regard for race, gender or religion.

Since its inception in 1978, it has performed more than 1.7 million services, with a value of $670 million, and has directly benefited more than 1.9 million people in 70 different nations.

Crew members are volunteer professionals from around the world doctors, nurses, community developers, teachers, builders, cooks, seamen, engineers and others.

The Africa Mercy alone has about 400 crew members.

"We also have community development ... groups that go out and build wells and fix houses. We have electricians and mechanics. We're affecting every part of their culture," Adams said.

On her days off, she goes out into the community to visit orphanages and homes for disabled children. She shows a film that tells the story of Jesus and, "you hope they ask you some questions."

Adams learned about Mercy Ships when doing research online to learn how she could transfer her nursing license to South Africa, where she wanted to relocate.

A graduate of Western Illinois University and St. John's College in Springfield, she worked for a year as a trauma intensive care unit nurse. But she visited South Africa in March, made friends and wanted to move there.

"When I searched (the Internet,) Mercy Ships came up in the search engine results. It was totally random. I hadn't put anything in mission related, but I started reading about what they do and where they go. It seemed perfect," she said.

A member of The Crossing in Quincy, Adams had been going on mission trips since the ninth grade, and she felt a calling to use her nursing skills to help people who need it most.

After she leaves the Africa Mercy in mid-December, she will return to the United States to work for a while. She also hopes to begin a four-week course in Texas in January, and then three weeks in the Dominican Republic, which is a requirement for Mercy Ships crew members who want to volunteer long-term.

Her plan is to return to Mercy Ships in 2009.

"There are days you really miss your family," Adams said about her time on the Africa Mercy. "But I live in a room with six people, and you really get close to those people. They're your pseudo-family. And I get the fulfillment of seeing someone happy by just you helping them."

Adams says her parents and her older sister, Tricia, are supportive of her mission work.

"My dad thinks, 'See the world while you can,'" she said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

On the Web: www.mercyships.org

Contact Staff Writer Kelly Wilson
at kwilson@whig.com or (217) 221-3391

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