We’ve all felt the pain of sickness or injuries before. For most of us, relief is a simple appointment away, but for many people, this pain is difficult to heal. Imagine the pain of a parent who has no choice but to watch as their child suffers from a preventable disease. Or, the distress a woman might face after being rejected by her loved ones and community because of a painful condition.

For more than five billion people around the world, this is the life they are forced to endure simply because they lack access to safe, timely, and affordable medical care. This need has been the driving force for the Mercy Ships mission since 1978. Over the last 40 years, Mercy Ships has worked alongside our partners and dedicated volunteers to provide life changing surgical care and medical training through our fully equipped hospital ships.

Why do we use hospital ships? More than 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of a coast — which is why we decided to use modern hospital ships to bring world-class volunteer medical professionals directly to the places they’re needed most. Our ships are the most efficient way to bring a state-of the-art hospital to regions where clean water, electricity, medical facilities and personnel are limited or nonexistent. Our ship provides a safe, stable, fully outfitted hospital which provides the best platform for our mission to bring hope and healing.

Since we began in 1978, Mercy Ships has been able to provide medical care and training to many nations around the world, changing lives just like 12-year-old Ulrich’s!

Young Ulrich’s muscles had not developed as fast as his bones, which left his legs bent drastically backward. Despite constant stares and ridicule, Ulrich learned to adapt to his condition. He learned to walk with sticks made from sturdy branches, but experienced pain in his hands and joints from supporting his body weight in this unnatural way.

“I was scared to grow up like that,” Ulrich said. “I didn’t want this to be all my life was ever going to be.”

When Ulrich first came onboard our hospital ship, our volunteer nurses had never seen a case so severe.

“Just when I think I’ve seen the worst case in my career, I meet the next Ulrich and it keeps me going,” said volunteer surgeon Dr. Frank Haydon.

After several complex surgeries, Ulrich woke up with two straight legs in casts. He had a hard time believing they were actually his legs. The first time he stood up, he reached up to see if he could touch the ceiling.

Today, Ulrich stands tall and proud!

“When I would walk in the street before, people would stare at me,” Ulrich said. “They thought I was just a handicapped person, and they treated me differently. Now, they will look again!”

When his time on the Africa Mercy came to a close, Ulrich offered Dr. Haydon a gift — his old walking sticks. Ulrich knew he wouldn’t need them anymore now that he could walk correctly.

From our original ship, the Anastasis to our current vessel the Africa Mercy, our hospital ships have helped impact over 2.8 million lives around the world, and it’s all thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers and generous partners like you.

Learn more about the history of our hospital ships at mercyships.org/hospital-ships/.