Portland District Health medical imaging technologist Helen Roberts is about to fulfil a long-held dream when she undertakes a three-month volunteering opportunity on the Africa Mercy ship.

A dream to come true

Helen will use her medical imaging skills to help care for the people of Senegal, with the ship anchored in the Port of Dakar.

The Africa Mercy ship is the second largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, providing life-changing surgery and staffed by volunteers.

“It’s very exciting, and I have waited a long time to be a part of the hope medicine can offer to the most vulnerable”, Helen said. “To help change lives is deeply satisfying – as they change mine too! I am also able to leave behind my skills through teaching local volunteers, as in a train the trainer program”.

Helen will be one of two radiographers working on the ship and she will also be involved in other shore-based voluntary programs.

The international accredited charity, Mercy Ships, began in 1978. The Africa Mercy ship has more than 400 volunteer staff to serve the ICU, 6 operating theatres, Wards etc. Additionally, the Hope Centre is where outpatients can recover post op to free up Ward beds and offers nutrition education for mothers and babies. Through the sale of eggs, Helen was able to provide training in safe PPE practice for more than 400 nurses in Africa through Mercy Ship opportunities.

Helen is no stranger to volunteering, having worked with Christian Ministry projects since 2011 in North Sumatra. “I am grateful for a two-way sharing that sees me leave behind knowledge and choices for improving quality of life”.

Helen has worked with the Portland community since July 2009, initially travelling from Mt Gambier. “I have met amazing people within the Portland District Health community from day one,” she said. This included staff who opened their homes to her so she could fulfil her weekend on-call responsibilities.

Medical Imaging is Helen’s fifth career having worked previously in agricultural research; medical research; Christian ministry; and allied health as physiotherapy assistant and medical receptionist. “These past experiences have brought understanding that enhances my professional relationship when caring for patients”, she explained.

She has valued the opportunity to extend her qualifications in post graduate study across Mammography, Computed Tomography and Breast Ultrasound. “Patients have been genuinely grateful that with these qualifications I have opportunity to continue their imaging pathway with them”.

“The highlights of my time here include the team approach at PDH; liaising with other health professionals; involvement in screening programs (Breastscreen and Bone density) which are invaluable in maintaining health and independence; and above all, the privilege of mutual respect – with Mammography patients holding a special place in my heart as we share, cry and celebrate their journeys.”