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Mercy Ships

Jared Clairmont, a registered nurse from Billings, volunteered for 3 1/2 months on a floating hospital that's part of Mercy Ships, a faith-based organization, which travels to the most impoverished countries of the world to provide education to medical providers and surgical healing to patients.

Courtesty Saul Loubassa Bighonda, Mercy Ships

Christmas is about faith, the birth of Jesus and his impact on the world.

For Jared Clairmont, a registered nurse, faith is a verb, a way to have an impact on the lives of other people. He sums it up in a Bible verse, Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Clairmont was headed back to Billings for Christmas, but he gave an interview while on board a Mercy Ships floating hospital docked in Cameroon, Africa. He spent 3-½ months on the Africa Mercy, a Mercy Ships floating hospital that brings modern medical treatment and care to some of the most impoverished nations in the world.

Like all of the nurses, doctors, medical staff and the rest of the crew, Clairmont paid his own way, both for travel and expenses, to volunteer with the international faith-based organization. Some on staff stay for years, while others, like Clairmont, do shorter stints to help out however they can.

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Mercy Ships

Robyn Porep, a physical therapist, guides Ulrich along Deck 7 on the Africa Mercy ship as he learns to walk with straight legs after undergoing two surgeries performed by Mercy Ships surgeons.

Clairmont, who grew up on a ranch outside of Polson, graduated from Montana State University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He spent a year caring for cancer patients at Billings Clinic, and then the next year working in the hospital’s emergency department.

He first heard about Mercy Ships watching a segment on “60 Minutes.” Then he learned that another nurse at Billings Clinic had volunteered on board.

“She highly recommended it when I was chatting with her,” he said.

Nurses must have two years of experience to be considered, but people from all kinds of backgrounds can apply for other types of jobs, from working in the galley or being part of the deck crew. Clairmont applied to work on the ship in July and was accepted soon after.

Despite jet lag, after he arrived he hit the ground running as a pediatric ward nurse, taking care of younger patients before and after surgery. During his first six weeks on board, physicians dealt with orthopedic cases, and then they transitioned to conditions requiring plastic surgery.

“A lot of people in Cameroon still use open fire as their source of heat for cooking,” Clairmont said. “So a lot of them end up getting burned at an early age, and when they grow up, their skin ends up contracting.”

That denies them a full range of motion. But with skin grafts, their ability to move more easily can be restored.

In the orthopedic realm, Clairmont cared for youngsters treated for bowed legs, crooked legs or those with contractures, an abnormal shortening or shrinking of the muscle and tendon.

He told the story of Ulrich, a 12-year-old boy who had quadriceps contractures that were so severe, his back was parallel to the ground. He could only walk by holding sticks in his two hands.

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Mercy Ships

Ulrich, an orthopedic patient being treated by the Mercy Ships ministry in Cameroon, is shown before surgery to treat the contractures in his legs.

Aboard ship, Ulrich underwent surgery first on one leg and, about a week later, on the other. An “after” photo of the youth, standing straight and balanced on crutches, showed him with a smile on his face.

The surgery that transforms kids’ lives brings their mothers and fathers “a different kind of healing,” Clairmont said. Parents feel so much of their child’s pain, and in a world where cures are hard to come by, Mercy Ships gives them hope.

“The first time Ulrich stood up, you could tell his mom was just really, really touched,” he said. “She had suffered with him for 12 years — some could argue she suffered more than him. For her to see him standing with straight legs, that was pretty amazing.”

Clairmont was equally inspired by the medical staff he worked with. They seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus, he said.

“They have one common goal,” he said. “They dream, they desire to help people who are needing some help to give them a fair shot at life.”

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.