Hobson combines love for travel with medical mission work in Africa [with gallery]

Published 2:34 am Saturday, November 24, 2018

For most of the year, Andalusia native Mary Elizabeth Hobson works as a nurse anesthetist, in Nashville, where her work is primarily for cardio thoracic surgeries or outpatient orthopedic procedures.

But since 2009, she’s been spending her vacation assisting with surgeries in remote areas of the world. She began the work by traveling with a group of Nashville head and neck doctors on surgical medical mission trips to Nigeria and Kenya.

“I always enjoyed it,” she said. “But last year, I wanted to do something different.”

She decided to travel to Tenwick Hospital in Kenya, where another Andalusia native, Dr. Ben Roberts, is a medical missionary practicing ophthalmology.

“I signed up with Samaritan’s Purse to travel there to do anesthesia,” she said. “I had my plane tickets purchased and I was ready to go.”

But the month before her planned trip, she learned that Tenwick Hospital didn’t want short-term volunteers because of political unrest there. And that’s how she started traveling to Togo, a West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea.

“(Samaritan’s Purse) said there was a big need for anesthesia in Togo,” she said. “I said, ‘OK.’ I felt like God was leading me there.”

The hospital to which she traveled is run by Baptists. While it has fulltime U.S. medical missionaries there, there was no anesthesia provider. It was one of the many small-world experiences she’s had in mission work.

“My parents did not know where Togo was,” she  recalled. “And then, I found out Dr. Kenneth Crowe and his wife, Terry, have been going there, say for a month at a time. It was kind of neat, that somebody from Opp was going to same hospital I was traveling to.”

In her 2017 trip, she said, she was able to experience some incredible things, so she decided to go back again.

“This year when I was there, it was mainly surgeries for people who came in with infections,” she said “Typhoid is bad there, and can cause a perforated bowel.”

She also met a surgeon who also was in Togo for a short-term assignment.

“I asked him where he was from and he said, ‘I’m from South Alabama,’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘Me, too. Where are you from?’ He said, ‘Oh, I live in Evergreen.’ ”

The surgeon was Salem Saloom, who practiced medicine for many years in Brewton.

“He had been to this same hospital previously, as well,” she said. “But our paths had never crossed.”

There are many differences in her work here and her work there, she said.

“In Togo, I do mainly spinal anesthesia,” she said. “I’m trained to do that, but I don’t practice it in states.”

In the States, a patient typically leaves surgery and is monitored in a critical care unit. In Togo, that resource is not available. 

“I have to tailor the anesthesia so that as soon as I’m done, I can leave the patient and know he will be OK. There is no nurse to watch them as closely there as here.”

During the two weeks she was in Togo, she did three to five surgeries a day. She also was on call.

“One patient came in and had a bad infection in the neck and chest,” she said. “In the States, he would have gone to ICU and been on a ventilator overnight. There is not that capability there, So ended up staying until 3 a.m., then switching out with another caregiver. Basically, I acted as ICU and a ventilator for this patient. We really take for granted the resources we have here.”

Hobson’s parents, Norman and Sharon Hobson, naturally worry about their daughter. But Hobson said she has not been afraid.

“ I know bad things happen here, and bad things can happen there,” she said. “But I trust that God will take care of me. I’m also diligent in making sure don’t put myself in unsafe situations.”

In Nigeria once, her team was escorted by the army.

“That was intense,” she said. “You just hope you’ll be OK.”

For anyone considering medical mission work, Hobson recommends two things.

“First, pray about it,” she said. “And I’m a big advocate of Samaritan’s Purse. They took care of all of the logistical information. They had somebody from the hospital pick me up, and housing and food were provided for me. They have hospitals throughout the world that always have a need. There are plenty of places throughout the world could use help.”

She’s barely back from her 2018 trip, and already has next year’s travel planned.

“A co-worker of mine is going to Haiti,” she said. “He’s been going for years for and orthopedic clinic.”

After that, she’ll join a Nashville cardiologist who does a pacemaker clinic in Honduras.

“More than a million people die in Third World countries for lack of pacemakers,” she said.

When she isn’t volunteering for medical missions, Hobson loves spending time with her family, especially her nephews and niece, Forest, Merritt and Edyn, the children of her brother and sister-in-law, Hunter and Ali Hobson.

“They’re my world,” she said. “I also just love traveling. I try to travel and go and do as much possible.”