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Road Less Traveled

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Krissy Close works with a child on The Mercy

We’ve all had those sudden almost out-of-body moments of reflection. Krissy Close’s happened in the Republic of Congo while she was hauling 40 pig intestines back to work. “How in the world did I get here?” she wondered. The answer is, of course, complicated.

Krissy didn’t board an airplane until she was 16. Growing up in Duluth, her family stuck close to home so she successfully avoided the travel bug. But once it bit, it bit hard. Her first trip was to Paris and it started the process of “ruining her for the ordinary,” as she describes it. “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.”

Trying on Corporate America

After graduating from high school, Krissy studied psychology at UMD. Fulfilling a life-long interest in camps, she headed to Washington after graduating in 2002 and worked as a camp director for two years. Despite not having a background in business, she jumped into a great job at Microsoft and spent the next five years working her way up the corporate ladder.  It wasn’t a good fit. She felt trapped. “To the outside, I had achieved the American Dream. It just wasn’t my dream.”

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

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

Assigned to the Republic of Benin in West Africa, Krissy 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 that docks in countries with major medical needs.

UMD alumna Krissy Close outside the Mercy Ship  

Finding Mercy

Mercy Ships’ mission is to meet the long-term needs of its patients through state-of-the-art health care. An advance team coordinates the ship’s arrival and complimenting clinics. When the ship docks, medical procedures like transformational surgeries take place. “The ship is there for a long period of time, which allows for follow up for the intensive surgeries,” explains Krissy. A lot of the surgeries performed on The Africa Mercy correct deformities caused by poverty, like noma, a disease triggered by malnutrition in which tissue is corroded.

Krissy tried out life on The Africa Mercy for a couple weeks and knew that she’d found her next home. She’s worked a few different jobs and is now the hospital project manager, overseeing educational and surgical programs, which brings us back to the Congo and Krissy hauling 40 pig intestines through the jungle.

Johnson & Johnson was sponsoring a basic surgical skills workshop for The Africa Mercy's staff. Things like knot tying and sutures would be taught and the class needed some materials to practice on. “I had to go to the butcher and say, ‘I need 40 pig intestines. Can you help me out?’”

All in a day’s work for Krissy, whose job description also includes serving as a government liaison, doing public relations, and organizing translators. “This is my job and it’s awesome. I love that it’s different every day.” Incredibly, she doesn’t earn a salary for her work, instead, she says, “Everybody’s a volunteer. You actually pay for the privilege of serving.”
Krissy had an opportunity to share the story of Mercy Ships with 450 people at the World Health Organization Africa Summit in September. She says it was an incredible experience, one that, when she reflects, has been in the works for a long time. “I can see how pretty much every job I’ve had has ended up going in the same direction of really investing in people.”

Someday, Krissy would like to return to the U.S. and get a master's degree in public health. But for now, Krissy says that being onboard The Africa Mercy is exactly where she should be. "I know this is what I'm supposed to do."

More information:

Krissy's blog

Mercy Ships

Those who can, Duluth
Story by Lori C. Melton

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