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Volunteer Spotlight: Sue Fossum

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When ReSurge volunteer Sue Fossum first heard about ReSurge, she was working in the PACU at UC Davis, raising two young boys, serving as a reservist in the Army and involved with local, state and national perianesthesia nursing organizations.  Needless to say, ReSurge (then Interplast) had to be placed on the back burner.  However, the draw to volunteer for the organization remained front and center until 2007, when Sue went on her first ReSurge trip to My Tho, Vietnam.

“I went as a nurse educator on that trip, providing individual training as well as large group presentations,” said Sue. “They had a hospital translator available to take all my presentations and put them into Vietnamese; good for them but a challenge for me to read from my slides! I also provided backup relief for the PACU. I worked with the pediatrician, as well providing discharge teaching on the wards and dressing changes. I was so excited to be able to participate in this trip!”

Since then, Sue has been an extraordinary volunteer for ReSurge, traveling all over the world to share her time and nursing skills. She remembers all of her trips fondly, but points to her trip to Itigi, Tanzania in December 2016 as one of her most memorable. She was immediately struck by how much poverty existed and how difficult life is when there is little water and food. In fact, at the hospital, family members had to gather their own firewood, build their fire, cook meals and then bring it to their loved ones in the hospital.

“My role on this trip (a one table trip) was as the nurse educator and also backup relief for the PACU,” said Sue. “There was a nursing school, St Gaspar’s Nursing School, and Bev at ReSurge was able to connect me ahead of time with Mr. Maccha, the Vice Principal of the school.  His main concern was the need to have basic resuscitation training (airway management/cpr). I was able to prepare lectures, provide hands-on training and arrange to have AHA certification for CPR for over 60 students and staff at the school.  What I found in Itigi was eager and energetic students and nurses at the hospital who wanted to learn as much as they could.  It was a real privilege working with and alongside all of them.”

Unable to travel during COVID-19, Sue has kept busy gardening, kayaking and spending time with her quarter horse, Reno.  In addition to her work with ReSurge, Sue is also missing her volunteer work with the Navajo Nation. Each summer, Sue has participated in building projects, teaching CPR/first aid to the local teachers and community and, the last several years, she has been leading the charge with vaccinating and deworming their livestock, mainly sheep and goats. Last year, they were able to treat 1200 animals in 4 days!

It’s especially hard for Sue to not be able to visit her friends in the Navajo Nation knowing how they are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“Many live without running water, electricity and in multi-generational households,” Sue said.  “They travel for miles to fill up water containers to use for cooking, drinking and washing.  This reminds me so much of the families that we see and work with on our surgical trips.  We have been going to this location, Rock Point, for 17 years and have established closeness with these amazing people and learning their culture over the years. There is no healthcare within 60 miles and little to no vet care.”

Beyond volunteering her services with the Navajo Nation and on ReSurge trips, Sue is a member of the ReSurge nursing committee, and currently serves as co-chair with Maria Pederson and Ingrid Crocco. She also provides local presentations to several community groups on ReSurge’s work.

“I support the purpose and mission of ReSurge and appreciate the opportunity to volunteer,” said Sue. “There are so many exceptional and talented people associated with this organization and I have made ongoing friendships.  For me, part of the experience of going on surgical trips, is the amazing and dynamic way team members (many who don’t know each other prior to the trip) come together in such a short period of time, to focus on the jobs that need to be done. I love the experiences and opportunities that we get as volunteers to meet and interact with people around the globe.  I have always been so incredibly touched by the families of the kids we care for – that they trust and willingly hand over their child to us (strangers) to care for.”

When asked which historical figure she’d like to share a meal with, she named the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.

“What a debt we owe her,” said Sue. “To hear stories of her work during the Crimean War – she was a trailblazer.  Her foundational views on sanitation, she established standards of care, taught nursing education, used scientific facts and research in how she approached care to patients.”

ReSurge feels lucky to have our own Florence Nightingale in Sue Fossum.

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