Anthony Amato, 61, spent more than a month aboard a...

Anthony Amato, 61, spent more than a month aboard a floating hospital in Africa, caring for sick residents. Credit: Handout

A Massapequa Park registered nurse returned Tuesday from a month-long trip to Sierra Leone, where he offered a helping hand to residents in need. Anthony Amato, 61, who works at South Nassau Communities Hospital, worked and lived aboard a floating hospital called the Africa Mercy, which was staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses from around the world.

Amato became motivated in 2005, when he was following the work of the USNS Mercy, a floating hospital dispatched to help the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While doing a Google search for the ship, he stumbled upon a website for the Texas-based organization Mercy Ships and knew it was something he wanted to be a part of.

“I worked mostly with pediatric orthopedic cases,” he said of his recent trip, which was his third, each in Africa. “The majority of my cases were bowlegs, clubfeet and knock knees.”

In Sierra Leone these deformities are often seen as the work of evil spirits and can result in the neglect and death of a child. Amato recalls one case in which a mother brought in her 5-month-old child, who had a clubfoot. Her village and family told her to throw away the baby, and she was shunned when she didn’t. Amato said such cases keep taking him back despite the cost. He paid $1,400 to go on this past trip.

“You do learn to cope,” he said. “You try to focus on your task, knowing you will eventually make a difference in these people’s lives.”

Amato’s son, Anthony, 29 and a former Marine, passed his nursing boards last summer and will be eligible to work with Mercy Ships next year. The two intend to go to Africa together.

“I do it because I have had a very good life. I have been blessed with a wonderful, loving wife,” Amato said of wife, Sheila. “I just want to give back to the world for all of the goodness I received.”

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