Life-saving and Life-changing
As Christy Stutsman '06 leaves for work in the pre-dawn darkness, she reminisces about the cool mornings she loved as part of the crew team her first year at Saint Ben's. The simplicity of waiting for the sun to rise as boats glided across the misty lake are memories that have stuck with her over the years. Little did she know that five years later, she would be watching the sunrise from halfway around the world.
After graduating with a degree in nursing, Christy volunteered in Kenya for one year through the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB). She worked in pediatrics at a remote hospital, but after working with sick children and too few resources, she switched to assisting new mothers in labor and delivery.
When her commitment with CMMB was completed, she returned to Minnesota. She was back for only one month when she realized she was not where she was called to be. "I didn't know why I was here," remembers Christy. "Felix (Christy's now husband) was still in Kenya, my heart was still in Kenya - I had to go back."
She soon returned, earning her nursing license through the Kenyan Board of Nursing, and moved to a hospital closer to Felix where she practiced for an additional three years. Throughout that time, Christy worked to make a difference in labor and delivery by working one-on-one with the mothers. She explains how, when babies are born prematurely in parts of Kenya, there is no known way to care for them since the hospitals don't have adequate resources.
"It weighed on my heart," says Christy, "An unfortunate culture developed where the mothers became desensitized to infants passing and would leave...so I would take those babies and hold them until they passed away."
In the face of such tragedies, Christy remained optimistic through the hope cultivated from the many lives she saved. She tells of one mother in particular who gave birth to twins and went into a coma after delivery. Christy and her co-worker cared for the children, despite strong opposition from family members who feared the babies would have no one to care for them if the mother died.
Despite that resistance, she continued to care for the twins. Three days later when the mother came out of the coma, she was elated; she and the babies were safe. She named the baby girl Christine after her.
"It changed my life," Christy says of the experience. "Here [in the U.S.] you're a nurse and you have this big team that's all working for the common good. There, people just give up hope because they see so much death."
It's immeasurable how many lives Christy saved or touched in a profound way during those three years. Her own life changed significantly as well - she got married and had her first daughter. It was shortly thereafter when she and Felix decided to move back to Minnesota. She is now working as a Labor & Delivery nurse at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
Christy considers her time at Saint Ben's as the foundation for her experiences in volunteering abroad. With the school's many service-related distinctions, including being placed on the Peace Corps' annual list of the top 25 volunteer-producing small higher education institutions, it is clear that Bennies are equipped for service.
"There are a multitude of diverse volunteer opportunities available as a student," Christy says. "CSB/SJU does a fantastic job at cultivating a social justice mindset in students."
Though her student life may be behind her, her international volunteering life may not be. "I am always open to any opportunity which presents itself. Anything is possible...so I'm curious to see what the future holds."