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Nurse gives back to the world

Posted: April 13, 2013 10:54 p.m.
Updated: April 13, 2013 10:54 p.m.
Maureen Wright, R.N., at right, works at a medical clinic in Kenya set up by Medical Mission Teams. The clinic treats people, many who have walked for miles, for a variety of ailments.  Maureen Wright, R.N., at right, works at a medical clinic in Kenya set up by Medical Mission Teams. The clinic treats people, many who have walked for miles, for a variety of ailments. 
Maureen Wright, R.N., at right, works at a medical clinic in Kenya set up by Medical Mission Teams. The clinic treats people, many who have walked for miles, for a variety of ailments. 

It’s the simple things that we take for granted that Maureen Wright, R.N. thinks about in relation to her visits to Africa.

"The poverty here doesn’t even compare to the poverty in Africa," Wright said.

In the past three years Wright, a labor and delivery nurse at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, has volunteered in Africa tending to the wounds and illnesses of local residents, many of whom walk to the clinic from miles away to seek treatment.

Wright, a Valencia resident for nearly two years, has made four visits to Africa, three to Kenya and one to Madagascar.

Poverty in Africa

When Wright thinks of the poverty in Africa the first two items that come to mind are water and shoes.

"When we are there we have to brush our teeth using a water bottle," she said. "People here complain and say, ‘I don’t drink L.A. tap water, and I say, ‘Are you serious?’ In much of African there’s no running water at all."

Wright said she thinks all the time of the women carrying loads on their heads for miles, walking barefoot.

"They carry so much on their heads," she said. "I throw things in my car trunk and then I think, ‘Wow, I have a trunk!’

Wright decided to go to Africa after a romantic breakup left her heartbroken.

"I saw a commercial on TV about Africa and it started the wheels turning in my head," she said. "When you’re feeling down and self-centered, how do you get out of that? You give of yourself. Going to Africa was something that I could do that would really make a difference."

After her initial explorations into volunteering her skills in Africa feel through Wright was able to volunteer through her church on a medical mission team through Lutheran World Relief.

She followed one of the team leaders to Medical Mission Teams when the woman and her husband founded their own nonprofit.

Irene and Maury

During one trip, Wright became involved with Irene and her unborn baby.

"The problem with birthing centers in Africa is that it is not the way people have babies in Africa," said Wright.

She said the mortality statstics for mothers and babies are "horrifying."

"I would love to see women going to safer places to have babies then at home, but no one has money and that’s just not the way the way it is done," she said.

The clinic set up in Kenya that Wright worked at had a birthing center, but "no one was coming."

However, at the end of one day Irene, who had been in labor for three days, did visit the center.

Wright examined her and quickly realized that Irene would not be able to deliver normally.

After the doctor in the clinic agreed the team transferred Irene to the local hospital.

However, Wright said her "heart sank" when she learned that the doctor at the hospital had decreed that Irene would be able to give birth normally.

"I just knew she needed a C-section," said Wright.

"I was crushed, I knew this wasn’t going to end well," said Wright. "But we can’t undermine (the local doctor’s) authority."

After praying for Irene in the evening’s devotional services Wright found out that Irene had indeed had a C-section.

The pastor that works with the medical missions team reported that Irene wanted to name the baby for the people at the clinic who had helped her.

Wright said to him, "What can you make of Tammy (the doctor) and Maureen, I guess Maury," she said. "He sends off a text and it comes back that the baby is named Maury."

It is another strange fact, said Wright, that while shoes and running water are scarce, "it seems that nearly everyone in Kenya has a cell phone."

Wright said she has kept in touch with Irene and helps to support the family.

Maury is now about 3 years old.

Irene has an older child as well who is about 5 years old, said Wright.

"When I went back to Kenya in October I learned the family is living in Nairobi," said Wright.

Wright arranged for Irene to go to school to become a seamstress.

"It is a job where she can support herself and her family," Wright said.

Becoming a nurse

Wright was born in Glendale, lived in Southern California her entire life.

"I always wanted to be a nurse as far back as I can remember," she said.

When she was in kindergarten the class performed a play where everyone asked to play the part of what they wanted to be when they grew up.

"My maiden name was Rooney and that’s kind of far back in the alphabet and when they got to me ‘nurse’ was already taken. So for the play I had to be a librarian," she said.

Her decision to become a nurse was solidified in the eighth grade.

"That’s when they make you watch the video of a baby being born and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse," she said. "Everyone said, ‘Oh that’s so gross,’ and I thought it was kind of cool."

Wright attended Pierce College and went to nursing school at Moorpark College where she received her R.N. degree. She also earned a certificate in labor and delivery.

The future

Wright is now a newlywed, married just over a year ago to Joe Wright.

"I think I’m done going to Africa for a while," she said. "I am trying to have a baby and can’t be on the anti-Malarial drugs. So I have put those trips on pause."


Wright said her experience in Africa have changed her.

"The majority of work done in Africa is a Band-Aid," she said. "There’s not a lot of education and people don’t realize that they need screens on windows... if they have windows. They need water, medicines, basic things that we take for granted."

Wright said she now aware of how much water we waste in the United States.

"It’s unbelievable the amount of water we all waste in a day and we don’t even think about it," she said. "In Africa people have to walk miles to get water and water is heavy."

Wright said she found the people in Africa to be "so warm and loving."

"They would invite us to dinner and make these elaborate feasts for us," she said. "The people are loving and generous and these are people that don’t have anything. I didn’t really understand how blessed I was."


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