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Spartans Abroad: Conor Early (MSN '20) serves children in Liberia

Conor Early, MSN ’20, completed his first mission trip in his nursing career to Liberia. Early and his team traveled to several hospitals across the country to assist on surgeries, exchange knowledge, and gain experience on medical conditions that aren’t seen in the U.S.

An experience nurse anesthetist, Early served on a U.S. team based in Kalamazoo. It is led by Dr. Marc Downing, a pediatric surgeon from Bronson Hospital. Downing has taken teams to Liberia since 2008, including residents and instructors from Western Michigan University’s School of Medicine (WMed). This was the first trip that Early was asked to assist with since he began teaching in WMed’s Department of Anesthesiology.

Early had two priorities to work through on the trip. The first priority involved determining the feasibility of starting a partnership between WMed and the Liberian healthcare system.

Conor early prepares a patient for surgery with another surgery attendant

“The hope is that surgical residents from WMed can travel to Liberia and experience surgery in a setting that would not be possible in the United States,” said Early. “Liberian medical students and surgical residents would also have the opportunity to come to the U.S. to experience surgery and medicine rotations.”

Early’s personal priority was to assess the current state of anesthesia at Liberia’s two largest hospitals. He assessed the needs of medical facilities they traveled to, bringing along anesthesia supply donations to each facility.

The mission trip team assisted on several procedures on their visits to Liberian hospitals. On one such procedure, Early assisted on a pediatric case where a patient needed a feeding tube placed. The patient had suffered chemical burns in their throat, esophagus, and stomach after consuming a caustic substance.

“Because I care for a lot of children in my practice in Michigan, I had a pretty good understanding of what this child would require in terms of sedation for the surgeon to get the feeding tube inserted safely,” said Early.

Early directed the local anesthetist how to better sedate the patient. Early felt that he made a positive impact on the child’s care. “He might not remember me or know what I did that day, but I will never forget him and the small impact I may have had on his life that day,” said Early.

This interaction with a young patient follows Early’s decision to pursue nursing. His early desires to help others translated into a career that symbolizes true care for humans. “I wanted to find a career that would allow me to spend time helping others while also providing for me and my family," said Early. “Nursing was the easy choice.”