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Sharp Health News

Changing lives around the world

Oct. 16, 2015

Cindy Ripplinger
Sharp Grossmont Hospital surgical director Cindy Ripplinger served on board the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest civilian hospital ship. Photo courtesy of ©Mercy Ships/Justine Forrest


Volunteering is in Cindy Ripplinger's blood. The surgical director at Sharp Grossmont Hospital says while growing up, she used to save her money so she could travel and volunteer in countries such as Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe and Japan. In adulthood, a full-time job and the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood quickly dominated her days and years.

That was, until she found herself holding a lucky raffle ticket, literally.

At a 2014 convention for perioperative registered nurses, Ripplinger's ticket was drawn, giving her the opportunity to serve on board the Africa Mercy, the world's largest civilian hospital ship.

If she chose to go, her flight, room and board on the ship would be covered. But with so much on her plate between work and family, she began to wonder, could she go? How could this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity become a reality? Thankfully, her boss, her husband of 22 years and her daughter fully supported her.

"It was easier to make the decision to go, knowing that my team, supervisor and family supported me," Ripplinger says.

In April of this year, the East County resident packed up two small bags and embarked on a two-week journey to Madagascar, the large island nation off the southeast coast of Africa.

Despite the three days of traveling to get there- including a nine-hour bus ride from Madagascar's capital to where the ship was docked - and then 10-hour workdays, Ripplinger was up to the challenge and could not wait to help the underserved people of this country.

The operating room where she worked specializes in surgeries such as the removal of large back and neck tumors and hernia repair.

"These are surgeries that many Americans take for granted, but for these patients, it meant a new lease on life," says Ripplinger. "It was a great experience to work with an international crew for a common goal to help those in need, give them hope and make their lives better."

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