Dr. Payam Afzali’s Story:
While Dr. Payam Afzali had heard of Mercy Ships in the past, it was a presentation by Dr. Gary Parker, Mercy Ships Chief Medical Officer, that resulted in a unique experience for the maxillofacial specialist.
“He spoke candidly about the patients he had treated and the ‘before and after’ (images) of a devastating disease called ‘Noma’ that was so prevalent in West Africa,” Dr. Afzali said. “The whole room was in tears, and I couldn’t contain myself. That’s when I approached Dr. Parker and said my dream, my goal, and my inspiration was to join him onboard the ship.”
Dr. Afzali spoke with Dr. Parker during the 50th anniversary of the UCLA Dental School — where the two had completed their oral maxillofacial program. Not long after, Dr. Afzali found himself onboard the Africa Mercy, assisting and training under Dr. Parker.
“I have never experienced this level of excitement or so much comradery as I have onboard the Africa Mercy,” Dr. Afzali said. “Everyone works together for one common goal — to help as many patients as possible, all of whom are in a vulnerable position and less fortunate when it comes to accessing resources and treatment.”
Dr. Afzali served onboard the ship for two weeks during the current 10-month field service in Dakar, Senegal. During his time volunteering, Dr. Afzali was able to utilize his extensive education and training to assist with free surgical procedures for many in need, changing their lives for the better.
“Maxillofacial doctors endure so much specialized training, and we’re not utilizing a lot of it. There’s no better way to use your skills, talent, and all the training you’ve had than to save a life, give someone hope and witness the impact,” he said. “Most of these patients have curable diseases and tumors. They are poor, ashamed, and can’t even be a part of society, so giving the gift of healing is just incredible! I would encourage all of my colleagues to come at least one time. This experience has exceeded my high expectations, but you can’t really embrace the feeling until you experience it personally!”