Passion for Justice

Nursing Alumnae Lead Medical Mission to Assist Hondurans

by Arvin Temkar, Office of Marketing Communications

Some families traveled for days to meet USF nursing alumna Suzanne Grant ’71 and her medical team. The patients were children, mostly, with maladies like clubbed feet, poorly healed fractures, and, in the case of one young man, a severe machete wound from being attacked.

Grant, a retired San Francisco operating room nurse, was part of a volunteer medical mission to Comayagua, Honduras this spring. The team of about 25 surgeons, nurses, translators, and organizers included two additional USF alumni — Grant’s friend and former classmate Kathrine Avison ’71, now a physician in Portland; and Operation Rainbow Director Michelle Duncan ’05.

“USF taught us about giving back,” said Grant. “It’s part of what we need to do to be good Christians, good Catholics — to give back.”

Grant has volunteered with Operation Rainbow, an Oakland-based nonprofit, since 1991. The nonprofit provides free orthopedic surgery to patients whose families don’t have the money or resources to seek more advanced treatment.

A lasting education

In the two decades Grant has been volunteering — often traveling once or twice a year to countries in Central and South America, where Operation Rainbow primarily operates — her education at USF’s School of Nursing and Health Professions has served her well. 

On these medical missions, she’s a charge nurse, setting surgery schedules, staff rotations, and other operating room priorities. Over the years the teams have run up against a range of problems medical professionals in the Bay Area rarely face.

No device to elevate a limb for surgery? Simple fix: Use a blowup balloon toy.

No electric warming blankets in the operating room? Bring Mylar blankets from home.

“Problem solving and critical thinking, those are skills USF taught me,” Grant says. “You have to figure out how to solve problems with what you have in front of you.”

At a reunion with some classmates last year, Grant’s enthusiasm for the life-changing work persuaded her former college roommate Avison to join the Honduras trip.

“Best thing I have done since teaching medical students,” said Avison, who used to be a volunteer clinical instructor. The team was able to operate on 44 patients in four days.

"The purpose of life..."

Director Duncan, who has worked with the all-volunteer organization for 10 years, isn’t surprised at the USF alumni showing. Many USF nurses have gone on trips with Operation Rainbow over the years, she said. Duncan herself was an international business major and Spanish minor, and started at the nonprofit as a translator

“Our mission very much aligns with the focus USF has — helping people and looking at the world through more compassionate eyes,” she said.

Grant, though retired, sees no end to her volunteer work with Operation Rainbow, which conducts about 12 missions annually.

“I plan to keep doing these missions,” Grant said. “Mainly because there is such a tremendous need and I have a skill that can help. To sum it up ‘the purpose of life is a life of purpose.’ That is my particular team's motto.”

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