|“I have such a love for women’s health.”|
University of Chicago Hospitals
As early as the fourth grade, Carrie Wicks knew she wanted to be a nurse. Today, more than 50 years later, she lives that childhood dream in her job as the fetal and infant mortality review coordinator at the University of Chicago Hospitals—a program that studies the nonmedical causes of unsuccessful pregnancies. But that’s only the beginning of her contribution to nursing. At a time when the profession has suffered many of the wounds of the overtaxed health care system, Wicks has emerged as a tireless international ambassador of nursing, mentoring and counseling here in Chicago as well as Africa, where she has set up successful medical projects in both Botswana and Ghana. Her secret? “I don’t sleep much,” she admits.
Wicks’s global vision focused on Africa in 1993, following an eye-opening five-country tour of the continent with colleagues from Planned Parenthood. She approached her professional nursing sorority, Chi Eta Phi, and asked its members to contribute $1 each. Eventually, she collected $1,500, as well as 40 boxes of medical supplies and nursing uniforms. Five years later, Wicks and her sorority set up a formal instruction program in Botswana that was attended by nurses from all over the continent.
Her African ventures expanded three years ago after she mentored a severely handicapped young woman from Lonto, a remote village in Ghana, who had come to Chicago to earn her master’s degree. “When she graduated, she went back home, and I followed her because I wanted to see where she was from.” After a 14-hour car ride from the nearest airport, Wicks arrived in Lonto, which had no electricity, no running water, and one school—also in need of resources. The only health provider was a nurse-midwife who delivered babies and gave immunizations.
“My heart went out to her,” Wicks says. “I got stuck on the idea that she was delivering these babies in the dark, and I decided that when I got home I would raise $700 for a solar light.” Wicks went at it a dollar at a time. “I asked everybody I knew and everybody I didn’t know for a dollar,” she says. She raised the $700 and, to help the village build a new borehole (similar to a well), chipped in the $1,000 she received with her 2005 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. Out of gratitude, the villagers dubbed her the Queen Mother of Development.
On the home front, Wicks’s two children wish that their mother would slow down—though that’s not likely. Wicks, age 62, is the chairman of her sorority’s international programs and projects, and she has already begun organizing Nurses in the Forefront for Africa (NIFFA) so that she will have something to do after she retires. “I will probably have to use my retirement money for NIFFA,” says Wicks, “but I have such a love for women’s health. When you do this work, you’re a silent warrior.”