Pursuing Her Purpose: Center Grove woman to help others from a Mercy Ship

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CENTER GROVE, Ind. (WTHR) — Finding your purpose can be illusive. Even if you think you've found it, you may face obstacles that are overwhelming.

But a south side mother says once her passion became clear no setbacks were going to stop her from pursuing it.

Jennifer Daggett is a Center Grove mother who stayed home to raise her four children. She remembers the sequence of events that changed her life's course.

"The baby was going to kindergarten, my sister had a stroke and I went and spent a week with her in the hospital. My parents had just gotten back from Africa. '60 Minutes' did a special on Mercy Ship. All these four things happened close together and I was like that is what I want to do," Daggett said.

The pull she says was clear. Her life's purpose was to nurse and work on a Mercy Ship. She said, "I can honestly say I felt so strongly the call to go."

The floating hospital travels to places lacking quality healthcare.

In the past 38 years it's stopped in 589 ports, performing 82,000 specialized surgeries.

The repairs include fixed for a club foot, bowed legs and tumors.

"You will see things you have never seen before and it begs the question, why don't we have that in America? And I think part of that answer is we take care of these things when they are small. You know kids don't walk around on ten years on club feet backwards," Daggett said.

It's a global crisis. The Lancet Commission estimates five billion people don't have access to safe surgery.

To help, Daggett realized she would have to overcome many hurdles.

She had a business degree and would have to return to school to become a nurse.

“I am a human being, I love Jesus, I am going to share what I got.”

Her resume lacked key science prerequisites required for nursing school. That obstacle was overcome by taking ungraduate courses at IUPUI. The next challenge was getting accepted to a nursing school. She faced several rejections until she landed a spot at Ivy Tech in Columbus.

She later secured a job at IU Health and continued courses at IU School of Nursing.

When she graduated in May 2016, Daggett was ranked first in her class of 230 students.

The bachelor's degree was the ticket. Now, she could qualify to work on the Mercy Ship.

Her tour starts in mid-February. "It was a long haul. I felt so strongly the call to go that it pulled me through nursing school, getting rejected from different applications. Okay, I'm still doing this," Daggett remembers.

At IU Health, Daggett assists brain surgeons. Onboard the Africa Mercy, she will assist plastic surgeons. To prepare, Daggett created flash cards with images of the instruments doctors will need. "I've been testing myself for months."

Her journey will take nearly 24 hours. She will leave Indianapolis February 18 and travel through Washington D.C., Brussels, Ivory Coast, and eventually land in Benin, a French-speaking country in West Africa.

When she arrives, she will be welcomed by the ship's program director, Keith Brinkman. He grew up on the west side of Indianapolis and is a graduate of Ben Davis High School. His family currently lives in Martinsville, Greenwood, and Plainfield. Mercy Ship staff and volunteers represent 47 nations. Brinkman says many Hoosiers have joined them.

Photo courtesy of Mercy Ship

Missy Brown, the current Operating Room Manager, is from the Fort Wayne area. The ship is a floating city complete with a cafeteria, a post office, and hair salon.

Brinkman says while most of the surgical procedures offered are life changing, for some patients they are truly lifesaving. He shares the story of one man named Alimou, who had a large facial tumor.

"If he hadn't come, he was months from dying. Because of the tumor blocking his throat, he would not have survived," Brinkman said via Skype.

The team on the Africa Mercy aims to perform nearly 2,000 surgeries while docked in West Africa. A key part of the mission is also training and educating local teams so they can provide care long after the ship moves on.

"To be able to do this in another country for people who cannot pay you back is huge," said Daggett.

She started preparing for this journey in 2002. It will be expensive. She is using her vacation time and paying for her travel.

Since it has been a struggle, she is hoping she is asked "Why?"

"Why do 450 people go and volunteer on a ship pay their way there? I think it begs the question, 'Who are these crazy people and why in the world would they do this for us?' I am a human being. I love Jesus. I am going to share what I got," Daggett said.

We are proud of you, the Methodist team cheers, as Daggett takes off her surgical gloves and heads out of the OR. She's taking just one backpack and a heart full of hope.

"This is my passion," Daggett said.

If her two-week stint goes well, Daggett and her husband, an engineer, may consider a long term stay on the floating hospital where the mantra is "nothing worth doing, is easy."

The Africa Mercy team welcomes volunteer, prayer and financial support. Visit the Mercy Ship website to learn more.

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