Special to the Bellevue Reporter
Imagine the joy of helping someone attain perfect vision, or correcting a birth defect to give the gift of speech. Performing such acts was a part of nurse Kelli Arnesen’s daily tasks, as she assisted thousands of patients during her recent stay on the US Navy’s hospital ship, the Mercy.
The twenty-four year old Bellevue native didn’t graduate from Newport High School with the volunteering on her mind, nor when she entered nursing school. But when the alumni director for the Brigham Young University Nursing Program called her, she was interested, but unsure if she could take the time off.
Her employer, Evergreen Hospital of Kirkland, fully supported a leave of absence, and soon her application was complete, her vaccinations taken and she was heading to to Asia.
“I saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to help others,” Arnesen said of her initial thoughts. “Once I boarded the ship, I realized I had no idea what went on to make such an incredible program work.”
The overall goal of the ship is to establish public diplomacy and to “prepare in calm to respond in crisis” through medical, veterinary and dental care, engineering projects such as building wells for clean water and rebuilding schools and clinics, and community relations projects varying from football (soccer) and volleyball games to visiting children’s shelters and elderly homes to painting buildings.
Arnesen felt honored to be part of such a massive humanitarian effort.
“It wasn’t just a US effort; we partnered with several different nations including Canada, Australia, Singapore, UK and Japan,” Arnesen said.
The partnership also includes the other armed forces and many non-governmental organizations (NGO’s).
Arnesen’s voyage to Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore involved Project Hope, Project Smile, UCSD PreDental School, LDS Charities and Vets without Borders. LDS Charities donated over $5 million in medical supplies and monetary donations.
Dr. Susan Puls, Medical Coordinator for Humanitarian Emergency Response & Community Services division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Kelli is a highly qualified ER nurse with a lot of experience, and an excellent candidate for the ship. “Her work in Vietnam and Cambodia was nothing short of exemplary.”
Arnesen served in the medical-surgical unit, which doubles as the emergency room. Working 12-hour shifts for two-weeks straight, her team alone saw over 800 patients (along with their escorts) on the ship, and nearly 60,000 patients on land at the MEDCAP (Medical Civic Action Project) sites.
On land, she worked in particularly hard environments.
“In Vietnam, we set up at a school that was extremely rundown, broken windows, dirt and dust everywhere, with stations for optometry, medical, dental, pediatrics and a pharmacy,” Arnesen said.
While there, her group saw more than a thousand people a day. She also had a surge of gratitude for the life we have in America.
“Ailments that we can so easily treat on a regular basis, like high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid problems, with standard healthcare nearby, are a lot more difficult to treat in the rural areas without easy access to primary care providers or medications,” she noted.
Her two-month journey ended in June, though she’s already looking forward to her next volunteer journey.
“Transforming a person’s life is the best gift of all.”
For more information on volunteering or the hospital, see http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/usnsmercy/