In late 2019, a team of more than 60 Hawaii healthcare professionals traveled to Samoa with Lt. Gov. Josh Green to assist with a measles crisis that had killed dozens of people, mostly children.
Chelsea McKee ’14 was among the 55 nurses who volunteered for the humanitarian mission, putting their own lives on hold to help with the massive vaccination and public health effort.
“I felt this was an opportunity to help others in need,” said the Chaminade Nursing graduate, an oncology nurse at the Queen’s Medical Center and clinical adjunct at the University.
McKee said while she traveled to Samoa to give her time and medical expertise, what she didn’t expect is just how much she’d gain in return.
“On our daily vaccination visits, people welcomed us with hugs, laughter and a lot of food,” she said.
The group from Hawaii was charged with vaccinating tens of thousands of Samoa residents in hopes of stopping the spread of the preventable disease.
McKee said doctors and nurses hit the ground running.
They started their days early in the morning, heading out to neighborhoods with vaccines and supplies. “A local nurse, a co-worker and I vaccinated over 360 people on our first day there,” said McKee.
“The nurses made an assembly line in the van to prepare the syringes and gauze, draw up the vaccination, and the other to administer. Just as fast as you could imagine vaccinating 10 people we would go onto the next house and the next until the evening.”
McKee is no stranger to public health nursing.
In fact, she had her first experiences serving the community with healthcare needs as a student at Chaminade. When she was seeking her degree at the University, she was able to travel to the Philippines and the Big Island on public health missions.
“In the Philippines I had the opportunity to work in the hospital setting, live with a family in a rural mountain community where we performed health screenings, learned about alternative medicine and much more,” McKee said.
“These experiences I gained from the nursing program exposed me to public health. By volunteering, I gain so much more than I can give.”
McKee was on the Samoa trip with another Chaminade Nursing graduate: Chandler Arce ‘16, a psychiatric nurse at the Queen’s Medical Center.
Speaking recently, McKee said she’d jump at the chance to help more families in Samoa.
“I still remember on the drive back to the airport thinking, I only hope we made a difference,” she said. “We hope we made an impact and prevented more deaths.”