African experience a life changer for future nurse Katy Sharman

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A photo of the children she worked with in Cameroon helps Katy Sharman remember an experience that changed her life.

Everyone who knows Katy Sharman raves about her potential as a nurse.

“A rock star” is one description. A faculty member of her college said, “There is no doubt that she will be an excellent nurse and go on to great things.”

The 23-year-old Lake Oswego woman much appreciates all of this confidence others have in her future, but right now she is pretty shaken up.

She recently returned from a month of service in the African nation of Cameroon, and the things she saw are still so fresh in her mind they bring tears to her eyes.

“I had a culture shock beyond what I expected or had prepared for,” Sharman said. “I had never seen poverty like that, with people sleeping on dirt, 20 people living in a room and kids with fungus on their heads. When I asked one boy when was the last time he had eaten or drank, he couldn’t recall.

“I’m still affected by it. I don’t know if it will ever not affect me. I know it will always be a part of me.”

You can be sure Sharman will do something about this situation. She is a natural-born helper, and she formed the idea of becoming a doctor early in her life. Her mother Lee Ann Ries gave her daughter words she would always live by: “When much is given, much is expected.”

“I told her all of those trite things,” Ries said. “I wanted her to understand how fortunate we were but how good it made you feel to give back.”

Ries knew her daughter was special when she had an interview with her teacher before entering preschool.

“That woman came out of the room looking amazed,” Ries said. “She told me, ‘That’s a bright little whippersnapper you have there.’ “

Under mom’s guidance, Sharman went on church missions and served in soup kitchens, but she also went the extra mile in giving. If someone she passed on the street looked hungry, she would stop and give him or her food.

Ries well remembers the time when Sharman came upon a woman looking lost. To make sure she was all right, Sharman followed her to a hotel where the police and her husband were frantically looking for her.

Sharman shined as a student at Lakeridge High School. She also went on service missions to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina, served on Native American reservations and built homes for Habitat for Humanity. She went on to the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. After graduating from there with a bachelor’s in general science in 2012 she had a slight change of heart.

“Having a family and outside interests were very important to me,” Sharman said. “Becoming a doctor is so all-consuming. I was drawn to the compassion of nursing and how it really impacts lives in a way different from other professions.”

Sharman chose to study nursing at Linfield College. Soon after she arrived she was intrigued by an email she received from the school.

“It was about opportunities for service at Linfield,” Sharman said. “There were no regular classes. It was about health promotion in Cameroon. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be amazing?’”

There was a big catch to this opportunity of a lifetime. Sharman would have to raise $6,000 for the trip.

“I was very intimidated and scared by the cost of the trip,” she said. “But another nursing student who had made the trip told me, ‘Don’t let the money worry you. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.’”

With characteristic energy, Sharman set about raising the money. She created a website, put a blurb in the newsletter of Bryant Woods, planned weddings and took some interesting jobs, such as being a tea maid at the popular Lady Di’s Tea Room in Lake Oswego. Wild dreams do come true.

“I was shocked at how my friends and family and people I didn’t even know gave me money,” Sharman said. “I raised $600 more than my goal.”

Then Sharman provided a surprise herself. Instead of pocketing the $600 for future fun, she donated it support a child through the non-governmental organization Women, Environment and Health.

“I was not surprised,” said Kim Kintz, longtime faculty member of the Linfield College School of Nursing. “Katy is that kind of person.”

Thus, in January Sharman traveled to Cameroon with eight other nursing students and two faculty members. Their mission was to go out each day to schools and do health assessments for students, examining them from head to toe. It proved to be a heartbreaking task. Of all the memories Sharman made one stands out the most.

“There was a 6-year-old boy who had chills, fever and headaches,” she said. “We took him on a bus to the hospital. One of the nurses gave him a beignet to eat. He took one bite and saw his brother standing with the people watching the bus. He got out and handed the only food he had to his brother. I cry every time I think about it.”

Due to her mother’s influence, Sharman has never had an attitude of entitlement. But her trip to Cameroon made her feel luckier than ever.

“We are extremely lucky we are here,” Sharman said. “It will be very difficult for me to take anything for granted again. The trip reaffirmed that working with kids is where my heart is.”

“Going to Cameroon changed her,” Ries said. “It’s still changing her.”

Later this year Sharman will receive her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Then she will further put her giving heart to good SUBMITTED PHOTO - Katy Sharman happily poses for a photo with her many children friends in Cameroon. She gave them all a head-to-toe checkup on their medical needs.

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