Since 1978, Mercy Ships has been sending hospital boats, for lack of a better term, to impoverished and beleaguered countries to tend to the "forgotten poor"; at this very moment, matter of fact, the African Mercy is perched off the shores of Togo in West Africa, a country ranked near the bottom of the United Nations's Human Development Index. Which makes Mercy Ships's home base incredibly "unlikely," in the words of spokesperson Kathy Gohmert (wife of Congressman Louie Gohmert) -- Garden Valley in East Texas.
"But we found it works," she tells Unfair Park this morning following the announcement that Annette Simmons, wife of Harold, has donated more than $1 million in stock to keep the ship afloat. Says Simmons in a statement, "I've known of Mercy Ships for quite a while and wanted to give this gift for a long time. My particular focus and interest is children. What Mercy Ships does for children with their remarkable surgeons on their hospital Ship in Africa is wonderful!" To which Don Stephens, Mercy Ship's founder and president, adds: "The worldwide economic situation has been difficult for all charities, and annually the slowest month of the year is August. This gift could not have come at a better time as the needs of the poor know no calendar."
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The operation, Gohmert says, is funded almost entirely by donors like Simmons, who, with her husband, donated $50 million to UT Southwestern's cancer research program in '05, among myriad other gifts in recent years. In the past, Mercy Ships -- which has an all-volunteer staff of 470, many of whom pay their own way, from 40 countries -- has operated as many as five floating hospitals, and they've been not only to impoverished countries but also served as a base of operations during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Now there's but the one vessel, which has six operating rooms -- so, says Gohmert, "our patient capacity is maximized." Next stop: Sierra Leone.