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At Home on the Mercy Ship

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At Home on the Mercy Ship

Alumna Krissy Close (’02) didn’t board an airplane until she was 16. Born and raised in Duluth, her family stuck close to home and she successfully avoided the travel bug. Once it bit, however, it bit hard. Her first trip to Paris began the process of change. After establishing a flourishing career with Microsoft and achieving what others called the “American Dream”, something still didn’t feel right. She wanted to give more. So Close sold her house and belongings and joined the Peace Corps, where, through a series of fortunate connections, she had the opportunity to experience The Africa Mercy ship which she now calls home.

“That was very influential; having the opportunity to see that there’s more to the world than Duluth, Minnesota. Something in me wanted to see more, wanted to do more.”

After graduating from high school, Close studied psychology at UMD and then headed to Washington in 2002. She worked as a camp director for two years and then found herself embarking on a new career path. Despite not having a background in business, she jumped into a job at Microsoft and spent the next five years working through the corporate jungle gym. “It wasn’t a good fit. I felt trapped. To the outside, I had achieved the American Dream. But it wasn’t my dream.”

Looking for an opportunity to solidify what her gut was telling her, Close took a six-week leave of absence from Microsoft in 2008 and flew to Romania to work at an orphanage. “I knew that I’d either love it or hate it, and I loved it. I knew that I was finished with ‘normal’.”

Close returned to Washington, sold her belongings, and joined the Peace Corps. “A lot of people thought that I was throwing it all away, but I didn’t see it that way. Selling my house and joining the Peace Corps was a way of acquiring my purpose.”

krissy2Assigned to the Republic of Benin in West Africa, Close worked with the Peace Corps as an environment and health volunteer. “I was out in the bush, no power, got my water out of an open well. It was incredible.” At the end of her service, she connected with a friend of a friend who was working on The Africa Mercy, a hospital vessel docking in countries with major medical needs. The long-term needs of its patients are met with state-of-the-art health care. An advance team coordinates the ship’s arrival and complimenting clinics. Medical procedures like transformational surgeries take place when the ship docks. “The ship is there for a long period of time, which allows for follow up after intensive surgeries,” said Close. Numerous surgeries performed on The Africa Mercy correct deformities caused by poverty, including noma, a disease triggered by malnutrition in which tissue corrodes.

Close experienced life on The Africa Mercy for a couple weeks and knew that she’d found her next home. While on board, she worked a few different jobs and is currently the hospital project manager, overseeing educational and surgical programs. Her duties change from day-to-day, and can include things like hauling 40 pig intestines through the jungle.

“Johnson & Johnson was sponsoring a basic surgical skills workshop for The Africa Mercy’s staff. Things like tying knots and sutures, and the class needed some materials to practice on. I had to go to the local butcher and ask for 40 pig intestines.”

Throughout her career on the ship, her job description has evolved into serving as a government liaison, public relations outreach, and coordinating translators. “This is my job, and it’s awesome. I love that it’s different every day. Interestingly enough, everybody on board is a volunteer. You actually pay for the privilege of serving.”

In September 2013, Close shared her experiences with 450 people at the World Health Organization Africa Summit. On reflection, Close realizes that her life story and all of the decisions that turned one way and then another brought her exactly to where she is today. “Pretty much every job I’ve had has taken me in the same direction. I invest in people and that is what Mercy Ship is all about.”

Want to know what its like aboard The Africa Mercy or what Krissy is up to on a daily basis? Follow along with her journey by reading her blog.

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Story provided by UMD External Affairs

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