Africa Mercy: Hospital of hope

The world's largest civilian hospital ship travels the west African coast, restoring sight to thousands and bringing smiles to faces once disfigured by tumors

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Scott Pelley: She could die over time from this?

Gary Parker: Oh yeah. Why, in 2012, should people be dying of benign disease? There are lots of reasons, there are no good reasons but there are lots of reasons that that's the case.

Scott Pelley: So you're going to replace her jaw with a titanium jaw essentially?

Gary Parker: Yeah. And then some months later, bone from the hip is taken and put around the titanium. And that grows into new jaw bone.

We followed Marta's progress over several months and in a moment, we'll show you the change.

Gary Parker: The uniform that's put on people when you have these terrible deformities is, "You're rubbish. You're worthless. You're spiritually cursed. You're ...." And when you can change the uniform, it's huge. And the person starts to imagine that they might not be rubbish after all. No one in our world is rubbish.

Edoh, that first patient we met, who came as a child, reclaimed her humanity with four surgeries in 17 years.

Scott Pelley: I understand that you're in school. What are you studying?

Translator: She wants to become a nurse to help other people too.

Scott Pelley: She wants to be a nurse.

Translator: Yes.

Scott Pelley: She's met a lot of good nurses in her life.

Translator: Yes.

And we met a lot of good nurses, too. Ali Chandra is from New Jersey.

Scott Pelley: You know, you could be a nurse anywhere. You could be a nurse back home. I wonder why you do this work?

Ali Chandra: I could never be a nurse back home anymore. I could never go back. There's just this sense of real community that I would really, really miss if I ever left this.

One of her jobs in this community is to care for the sickest patients.

[Ali Chandra: You're alright, baby, you're alright.]

This is Esther, another one of the tumor patients, as her breathing tube was being removed.

Esther's tumor was massive and her recovery a desperate struggle.

[Ali Chandra: Hey I hear your voice, I hear your voice, that's so good.]

Esther could not understand the language but the touch was unmistakable.

[Ali Chandra: Good job, sweetheart.]

Scott Pelley: You know that there are some people watching this interview who are saying to themselves, "I could never do what she does. Those poor people are terribly disfigured. I can't look at them."

Ali Chandra: People have been saying that to these people their whole lives and someone has to look at them. Someone has to look them in the eye and tell them that you're human and I recognize that in you. It's really interesting when -- sorry -- when new nurses come. A lot of the times they're very shocked and you can tell that, this is, oh I remember that, the first time I saw that it was kind of shocking but you, it gets to the point where you don't-- you don't see it anymore. You don't see the tumor. You just can see the person's eyes. Or if they only have one eye because the other one is a tumor, you find their eye and you find a way to connect with them.