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Alumni Spotlights

Bringing NU Nursing’s Legacy of Caring Around the World

Like many young women at that time, Lucy Pierce’s first experience in the medical field was as a candy striper at her local hospital.

“I really enjoyed working with all the people I came in touch with, both patients and employees,” she said, “and felt my path was naturally to continue in nursing.”

The Hamburg, N.Y., native enrolled in Niagara University’s College of Nursing because of its strong program, its outstanding reputation, and its Catholic tradition. She found her undergraduate years to be personally and academically positive, she said, learning the basic nursing principles and leadership while developing independence, a sense of responsibility, and strength through her faith. She explored her career options during clinical rotations that included a placement at Roswell Park Hospital, where she began working after earning her BSN in 1979.

While working at Roswell Park on the head and neck cancer ward, Lucy met Dr. David Fogarty, a cancer fellow from Stanford University, who invited her to join him and his family on a mission trip to Africa. After much thought, she said, she accepted the invitation.

Lucy spent the next year traveling and volunteering at a large government hospital in Lesotho, Africa, where she was given full responsibilities for diagnosing and giving wound care in settings that were unlike the ones she encountered at home. That experience was transformative, she said.

“I felt I had something to give and gifts to share,” she said. “I knew volunteering was going to be an integral part of my career path.”

Since then, Lucy has been on nearly 40 mission trips to places including Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet, serving patients who would not be able to receive treatment without the dedication of her team of medical professionals. The majority of those trips have been through Interplast West Virginia, a nonprofit organization based in Morgantown, W.V.

Lucy has taken on key responsibilities for the excursions, including orchestrating the logistics for each trip, which typically is eight to 10 days long; ordering medications and supplies; and packing all the supplies and instruments that are used by the 10-12 surgeons, anesthesiologists, operating room and post-operative nurses on the mission team. She also helps to fundraise to cover the costs associated with the missions.

Upon arriving at each location, Lucy and the other volunteers set up a clinic at a local hospital and prioritize the patients for surgeries to repair cleft lips and cleft palates, to treat acute burns and burn contractures, and to create skin flap and grafts for wound coverage. Her most recent trip was to Pignon, Haiti, in November 2020. Although it was during the coronavirus pandemic, and despite the fact that other groups had cancelled their humanitarian missions because of the virus, her team was able to enter the country and perform approximately 50 operations.

Through this work, Lucy is able to apply the experience she has gained during a 30-year career as the head nurse in a private plastic surgical practice, and through her current position as a circulating nurse in the plastic surgical operating room at West Virginia University Hospital. She is appreciative of the opportunity “to utilize my training to the fullest while providing life-changing surgical intervention to the less fortunate,” she said.

“My travels have taken me to places I never dreamt about, and some I never heard of,” she continued. “I got to meet and spend time with fascinating and talented surgeons and nurses, many of whom were host country partners. I gained much through our medical interchange and cultural immersion. The smile on the face of a mom when she sees her child’s repaired cleft lip after surgery brings tears to my eyes today, just as it did over 30 years ago on my very first trip, when I was overwhelmed with the sights and smells of medical care in places outside of my comfort zone.”