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On a Mission to Heal

May 10, 2022 Posted in: Patients & Providers  3 minute read time


Whether she’s assisting a surgeon at Saint Joseph Hospital or at a clinic in a far-flung corner of the world, Mary Jefferson pours her heart into her work.

A 16-year employee of CHI Saint Joseph Health, Mary Jefferson is a surgical first assistant at Saint Joseph Hospital — and plays an important role in surgery from beginning to end.

“Before a procedure starts, I assist the nurse with patient positioning and help prepare the patient to receive anesthesia,” Jefferson said. “During surgery, my role is hands-on as I assist the surgeon with opening and closing the surgical area and stopping bleeding. Cardiothoracic is my main focus, but I also participate in robotic, gynecologic and general surgeries.”

Ministering Beyond Borders

Passionate about serving others, Jefferson says that spirit comes, in part, from her father, who exemplified a willingness to do anything to help someone else. That’s the attitude she brings to her job and a related form of ministry: overseas medical mission trips.

“I went on my first mission trip with the University of Kentucky in 2003 when I was a dental assistant,” Jefferson said. “I fell in love immediately. It’s so humbling to go into an area of poverty and sickness, and whether we’re able to do a little or a lot, the patients we care for are so grateful we’re there.”

During the past 19 years, Jefferson has participated in medical mission trips to Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala and, in September 2021, Kenya.

Restoring Hope

Delayed nearly a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jefferson’s 13-day Kenya trip took place through Kenya Relief, a nonprofit organization that runs a school, orphanage and medical clinic in the community of Migori. She was part of a surgical team that cared for more than 50 people with facial tumors and goiters (abnormal growths of the thyroid gland).

“In the U.S., surgeons usually remove facial tumors and goiters when they’re small,” Jefferson said. “In Kenya, people may live for decades with facial abnormalities that keep growing and can put pressure on the airway or blood vessels. These individuals can also face discrimination in their communities.”

For Kenyan patients, the removal of a facial tumor or goiter can open new doors in life.

“To see the relief and joy of people who have lived with a growth on their face or neck for so long is incredible,” Jefferson said. “It changes their lives forever.”

Jefferson also noted how grateful she was for the support of the Saint Joseph Hospital Foundation, which provided some financial support for her travel expenses. Like every medical mission, the Kenya trip changed Jefferson, too — and she looks forward to returning to Migori this year.

"Medical mission trips remind me how much we take for granted in the U.S., and they make me resolve to be more grateful for and resourceful with what we have.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 print edition of Spirit of Health.

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