Christina has always loved it, even as a kid.
“I didn’t just dust around things on the shelves…I would move everything, I would dust it, and then I’d wipe it down with dust remover and put everything back just as it was. I had this passion for cleaning and organizing – but I didn’t know what to do with it…”
So in 2007, when Christina Fast was trying to choose a career path, she took the advice of a trusted neighbor in her hometown of Kamloops, Canada, who suggested a six-month sterile processing diploma program. This course taught Christina about the intense series of steps a surgical instrument goes through in order to be safe for use – including manual and/or mechanical washing, wrapping, sterilization, tracking, record keeping, validation, testing and inspections between each phase.
She’d come to understand that when done properly, this process takes almost three hours per instrument. And because an average surgery can require 80 to 100 instruments, she realized that a lot of and attention to detail was necessary to do this well. Just two months into her first job at a hospital, Christina knew she’d found her niche. But little did she know how her passion would greatly impact others…
It sparked from a friend’s blog, which spoke of volunteering with Mercy Ships in Africa. “I was blown away by the experiences she had and how she was able to serve,” says Christina, who starting looking at Mercy Ships job openings. When she saw the need for an OR Sterilizer, she applied, was accepted and a few months later, headed to Sierra Leone to join the Africa Mercy for a three-month assignment. In-between applying and leaving for the ship, Christina took a course to become certified in teaching the sterilization process to others – which came in handy.
While in Sierra Leone, Christina was invited to visit a local hospital where she encountered conditions she never thought possible. There were hospital rooms that hadn’t been cleaned in over 20 years. Used surgical instruments sat in dirty water only to be placed on a shelf or floor for future use. The hospital’s surgeon reported his patients’ postoperative infection rate nearing 90%. Locals told Christina that to enter a hospital in their community was likened to a death sentence. “I heard everything they were saying but I couldn’t believe it.”
Once back home, she made a decision. “I knew that I had knowledge I could pass on,” she says. With the support of family and friends, she began the process of founding SPECT: Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust – a non-profit organization that assists with sterilization techniques and education in hospitals and clinics where there are limited resources.
Still working her day-job and while organizing a non-profit, Christina continued to volunteer with Mercy Ships for two to three months, twice each year, helping the organization’s newly developed Medical Capacity Building department, an area dedicated to leaving a lasting impact to the countries visited. Her role? Teaching and training safe sterilization to workers from local hospitals and clinics.Today, SPECT is a valued a partner of Mercy Ships, and the two organizations are maximizing their reach by collaborating together and helping improve hospital conditions in undeveloped countries like Benin.
“There are many hospitals I’ve seen around the world where there’s no accountability and little awareness. And there are a lot of problems that I’ll never be able to fix in my lifetime…but at least we’re working towards fixing the ones we can!”
Mercy Ships Canada is so grateful to continue our partnership with SPECT and proud of the progress Christina and her team is making to provide safe surgery in West Africa.
Are you passionate about something that could help change the world? Check out mercyships.org/volunteer to find a position you could take to new heights!
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Angele had lost so much – her husband, her work, her dignity. But now, she’s able to finally take care of herself because of free surgery on the Africa Mercy. She no longer feels ashamed by the large mass –instead, she’s experiencing joy in life again: “I wake up every morning and give thanks to the Lord!”Angele is grateful to everyone who’s made this possible: “I cannot thank you enough for what you are doing for the people of Benin.”
Does this sound like your kid (or maybe one you know)? “She’s got a lot of energy, she’s very playful, she gets excited about food…and she already has a group of friends!” Yep, that’s Rose,
according to a patient’s mom nearby. As you can see, Rose likes to color, too. Now that she’s had surgery on her badly burned hand, she’s focusing on getting better. Soon, she’ll be able to play even more games and coloring even more pictures. As far as friends go, the count is growing for each day she spends in the Hope Center after her surgery on the Africa Mercy! (Because seriously – who could resist this face?)
Imagine going your whole life without talking. When Saidou was three, a fire burned her arms, chest, neck and face, tightening her mouth into a tiny o-shaped opening, not large enough to let words escape. She grew up for the past eight years listening to her brothers and sisters bantering back and forth, only able to respond with garbled sounds. But after free surgery and weeks of rehab, Saidou can speak for the first time – ever! “She talks to her mother on the phone now,” says her father, Amideau. “She’s very, very happy.”
I get boys. I understand how they tick. I like how they are loud, energetic and messy. In fact, my husband and I have three of our own.
But I don’t get little girls, not at all. In two years volunteering on the Africa Mercy, getting to know lots of kid patients, I’d never connected with a female.
So how did I first get to know five-year- old Gifty? She sat on me, literally. One Sunday service in the wards my husband Mick and I were sitting side by side, minding our own business. Gifty must have decided that we needed to be sitting differently, because she came over, and not only sat on us, but proceeded to rearrange us as she saw fit.
She climbed all over us – putting our arms on each others’ shoulders and my head against Mick. I felt like a piece of plasticine. And all of this was done without talking – as Gifty was born with a very large cleft in the middle of her face. … Note: Gifty and her mum, Joyce, are from Liberia, West Africa.
Gifty is Joyce’s sweetheart, her only child. Since birth, Joyce’s been devoted to her daughter, looking high and low for a place Gifty can get surgery. With the help of Samaritan’s purse, after five years of searching, the mom and daughter were finally able to come to the Africa Mercy. … Soon, Gifty underwent her very complex surgery.
She had her cleft lip and palette repaired, a nose created and also some cranial manipulation around her eyes. It was a massive operation for a little five-year-old. And afterward, she wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as she could! But Gifty wasn’t going to get her wish – not soon anyway. She needed to rest, and that meant staying in bed! Even though Gifty wasn’t too happy about it, this gave Joyce and I a chance to get to know each other. In the evenings, we’d sit together, playing game after game of UNO.
At first Gifty would just lie there disinterested – she was in too much post-surgery pain to care. But within a few days, I could tell she wanted to join in the fun. Slithers of her big personality began to resurface, albeit for short periods of time. But not long after, Gifty finally was allowed to leave the hospital – headed for the more-fun HOPE Centre (the Mercy Ships outpatient facility). Her recovery would be a long one – not only did her wounds need to heal, she also needed to learn how to talk for the first time eve.
So that is how Gifty, Joyce and I really got to know each other. We tried bubbles, we tried straws, and pretty soon, we were teaching Gifty how to read and write – helping her sound out every letter, number and syllable. And wow did Gifty improve. She started off writing squiggles, but was soon forming careful and straight letters. She started off whispering “A, b, c” in my ear, but soon started talking more and more loudly. And she started off shy, but soon was running to greet me when I’d arrive, giving me a big hug, taking my hand, yanking me to the picnic table to start our next lesson. One day, towards the end of Gifty’s time here, Joyce asked for my photo. She said she wanted to show Gifty’s ‘ship mum’ to her family back home – it took me a moment to realise that she meant me.
In that instant, I realized I changed. I’ll never again just be a ‘Mum of boys’ – A little girl has stolen my heart. … NOTE: Gifty and mom Joyce have made it safely back home to Liberia. Because of her severe cleft, Joyce never sent Gifty to school – she’d be ridiculed too much. Instead, she taught Gifty at home. But now, after surgery, Joyce is ready for her daughter to enroll. Thanks to mum and “ship-mum’s” partnership, Gifty will start school able to read, write and speak.
Written by: Tammy Dunne, adapted by Anna Psiaki