Nurse’s Annual Volunteerism Is “Life Changing”

Nurse’s Annual Volunteerism Is “Life Changing”

By Lynn Mundell

Elizabeth (Liz) Baggetta, LVN, had never been farther from California than Baja, Mexico, when she took her first trip as a medical volunteer — to Peru.

“I didn’t know what I was in for, but when you’re a nurse you just roll with it,” she said. “I wasn’t scared or hesitant. Instead, I thought, ‘Wow, I have found my calling here.’”

Baggetta is a 26-year Kaiser Permanente employee who has worked for the past 15 years in the KP South San Francisco Urology Department. It was there that she met now retired Karl Anderson, MD, who was regularly volunteering with San Diego-based Project Compassion.

“Every year Dr. Anderson and his family would travel to interesting countries as part of medical missions,” Baggetta said. “One day I asked if I could come, too, and he said, ‘We would love to have you join us.’ The rest is history!”

Not quite.

Since 2011, Baggetta has been to Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Malawi, Africa (twice). And as far as she’s concerned, that’s just the beginning. There are a lot more places that need her help.

Hard Work Plus Fun

Baggetta volunteers for 10 to 14 days once a year. She uses her own time, and pays her own expenses. Project Compassion organizes each trip, finds her temporary housing, and schedules vacations at the end, such as visits to Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, and safaris in Kenya and Malawi.

“It is exhausting work, but the amount of satisfaction and love we receive is immeasurable,” she said of the assignments. “We travel by bus to different villages each day and set up a complete medical clinic including pharmacy. People sometimes walk for days to reach us to get treatment.”

In Peru, Baggetta remembered feeling disappointed that she was assigned to taking patients’ vitals. “After the first day, though, I realized I had one of the best jobs. I got to see every person who came to the clinic.”

Since then, Baggetta has been tapped for wound care, administering IVs, helping in the pharmacy, and more.

Falling in Love

Dr. Anderson promised Baggetta she would fall in love with Africa, and he was right.

“On my last trip to Malawi I was part of a small team of 15 caregivers, versus the typical team of 30 to 40 people, and over four days we served 2,700 people!”

Baggetta said that in Africa and the other countries she is drawn to the people.

“The people are so gracious and appreciative of anything you can do for them. Sometimes there are hundreds standing in line, but never any altercations or harsh words.”

There is friendship, too: She keeps in touch with Hastings, a 27-year-old orphanage director in charge of 500 children, through Facebook.

Baggetta has already recruited four other KP employees who have joined her on three trips, and is hopeful that her son, Adam, will join her someday.

Next up is Cambodia this April.

“I encourage anyone, medical or non-medical, to consider taking a trip like this. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed,” Baggetta advised. “For me, it’s been life changing.”