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From Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital to a disaster zone in the Philippines


Sherri Grady, a nurse with Sick Kids hospital, has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières for seven years, including in the Central African Republic, DRC, Chad, Niger and Haiti. On Monday, she arrived in the Philippines, where she will be spending six weeks helping survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. Photo source: Sherry Grady

Bio_sgradyMeet Sherri Grady, a nurse with Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital. On Nov. 15th – Sherri's birthday – she got a phone call that would temporarily uproot her life and fling her into a disaster zone halfway across the world:

"You're going to the Philippines."

Just days earlier, one of the most powerful typhoons in history had blown through the archipelago nation in Southeast Asia, leaving a major humanitarian crisis in its wake. On Saturday, more than two weeks after the storm, officials said the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan had reached 5,235, making it the country's deadliest disaster on record.

But Grady has gotten these kinds of calls before – she is also a humanitarian worker with Médecins Sans Frontières, a gig that has taken her everywhere from the Central African Republic and DRC to Chad and Niger. She also spent three months in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, running a nutrition program in Carrefour, one of the most impoverished districts of Port-au-Prince (you can read some of her blog posts from Haiti here).

Today, Grady arrived in Cebu, one of the hardest-hit areas in the Philippines. When I spoke with her a few days ago, she had no idea where she'll be working in the country, what she'll be doing, or who she'll be doing it with – just that she will be calling the Philippines home for the next six weeks and doing whatever she can to help.

Before heading to Pearson airport, Sherri answered a few questions about how she was feeling prior to her mission. Over the next six weeks, we'll be checking in with Sherri periodically and sharing her updates here on this blog.

When did you find out you would be going to the Philippines – and how did this mission come about?

I found out that I would be leaving for the Philippines on my birthday a few days after the call had gone out for experienced expats to help with MSF's emergency response.  It took numerous discussions between MSF, my current employer the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children (affectionately known as Sick Kids), and myself before the many necessary details were organized, enabling me to accept the mission.

What have you done this last week to prepare?

This last week has been a blur of activity.  Prior to the mission, I already had a full schedule of shifts at Sick Kids into the new year.  It was only through the amazing generosity of my Sick Kids colleagues, who volunteered to cover my shifts for me, that I have been able to negotiate the time off to go to the Philippines. Once my shifts were covered, I was able to focus on packing, updating my vaccinations, seeing friends and family and basically putting my life in order prior to leaving for six weeks – a task that seems to have become much more difficult, now that I have given up my nomadic life of yesteryears.

As far as you know, what will you be doing there?

This is the most frequently asked – yet most difficult to answer – question that I get.  In other emergencies, I have been involved in providing primary healthcare through mobile clinics, secondary healthcare in a hospital setting, emergency vaccinations and even treating malnutrition. The key is flexibility and adaptability in the face of sometimes overwhelming medical and logistical needs and I am happy to fill any role necessary. I do really find that working directly with the local population is tremendously rewarding

What are you the most worried about?

Not having enough underwear. Seriously, that and being able to pay my mortgage while I am gone. I love my career and know my skills. Any anxieties are about what I am leaving behind, not where I am going.

Tell us three things you’ll be packing in your suitcase.

A headlamp, summer-weight sleeping bag, decongestants (I currently have a cold).

What are some lessons you’ve learned from past missions that you will be bringing with you to the Philippines?

Prioritize, be flexible and find the little successes to carry you through the hard times.

A final thought before you leave?

I am answering these questions while waiting for a friend to pick me up to take me to the airport... I have many final thoughts. Did I turn off the water heater? Have I thanked everyone who made this possible? What will I find when I land in Cebu?

I can only hope that my time in the Philippines will be spent in a meaningful way and that I have as much impact on their lives as the people I encounter usually have on mine. I carry people with me from every mission, kept safe and protected in my heart, and I wonder what new memories will find a home there in the next six weeks.

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar


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If you're still single, watch out for the sweet Valentino Philippino. He cooks really damn good chicken adobo! :)

Merry Christmas Sherri from your friends in the ED.

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