What are the odds?
What are the chances of scrubbing up and walking into the OR on the Africa Mercy and bumping into a close childhood friend, you’d lost touch with almost forty-five years ago? For general surgeon James Smellie and ophthalmic surgeon Richard Newsom (two of thirteen surgeons onboard the hospital ship this February) the stars above Dakar must have aligned to enable this event. “To meet up with an old school buddy in Senegal is just one of these amazing coincidences,” says Richard. “When I saw James in the OR, it was a complete shock to me. I had no idea he was here.”
The two surgeons, both of whom are Mercy Ships alumni, had gone to elementary school together in Cambridge. Their parents worked as doctors and colleagues in the same hospital in Cambridge, and the families knew each other well. When they went off to separate boarding schools, the two lost touch.
“While I was preparing to come to the ship this year I saw Richard’s name, so knew I could meet him again,” says James, “but I hadn’t seen him since 1976, until he walked into the operating theatre.”
The two had a lot of catching up and reminiscing to do, over just a few days, as James’ general surgery block was coming to an end. “I’ve really enjoyed my time onboard the Africa Mercy,” says James. “It’s been a good time – including a nice reunion with an old friend as well as an eye-opener professionally. You’re never too senior to learn something!”
As the two talked about their lives and training, they realized that there had been some parallels and that they knew many of the same people. Yet, even though their professional development saw both study in South London and work in some of the same institutions, their paths never crossed. Until now.
“I remember James as being one of the really bright guys at school, and have always wondered what had become of him,” says Richard. “It’s an amazing coincidence and I’d certainly like to stay in touch, and not wait another 46 years to meet up again!”
Dr Smellie left Dakar on 15 February 2020, and Dr Newsom departed from Senegal en-route back to the United Kingdom on 19 February 2020. They will both be back onboard Africa Mercy for the next field service that begins in Monrovia, Liberia later this year.
About Mercy Ships
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building, and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55 developing countries, providing services valued at more than $1.53 billion and treating more than 2.71 million direct beneficiaries. Our ships are crewed by volunteers from over 50 nations, with an average of over 1,000 volunteers each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills. With 16 national offices and our Africa Bureau, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time.8