“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.