By: Janan Talafer

Mauri Barnes has certainly had her share of adventures. She’s been a crew member on the Windjammer Barefoot Cruises in the Caribbean and a cook and first mate on a private charter boat. But nothing could compare with her first medical mission to Peru in 1999. For Mauri, a veteran nurse from St. Petersburg, Florida, with an infectious smile, it was as if for the first time in her life something clicked.

After an exhausting flight and a grueling 10-hour bus trip high up into the Andes mountains, the medical team of nurses and doctors arrived in the city of Huanuco. The sight that greeted them was astounding. People were lined up on the streets for blocks and blocks outside the hospital.

“They were camped out and living there with their families, just waiting for us,” says Mauri.

The team had come to treat congenital cleft lips or palates. Children with these devastating birth defects did not have access to surgery in this part of the world and many would grow to adulthood as outcasts. “The families were each hoping their child would be the one chosen for surgery,” says Mauri.

The next day was even more moving for the medical team. “When we walked through the crowd to get to the hospital, the people wanted to touch us and thank us and show their appreciation,” says Mauri. “Even though we didn’t speak the same language, compassion crosses all barriers.”

Travel broadens our perspective, makes us appreciate what we have and gives us a better understanding of the world. For Mauri, it seemed she had found her calling – the perfect opportunity to combine her love of travel and adventure with her nursing skills. But she was also struck by the lack of medical supplies at the hospital in Peru, and she was astounded at the nurses’ insistence on cleaning and re-using what would be disposed of in the U.S. “I thought of all the disposables that we throw away without thinking,” says Mauri. For her it was a life-changing event that required action.

When she returned home, Mauri, Debra Bebell, a fellow nurse on the Peru trip (who is now an acupuncture physician), and Debra’s husband Mark Terovich, decided to begin collecting clean, unused medical supplies that were no longer needed or considered out of date by U.S. standards. They began shipping supplies to Peru and other places around the world in need. They called themselves Nurses with a Mission.

“We had big ideas of changing the world and sharing our talents and abilities with those who needed them,” says Mauri.

Word spread about the group’s mission. More nurses joined the effort. Nurses with a Mission started networking with other charitable medical organizations and began partnering with Cardiostart International, a nonprofit providing free heart surgery to children and adults in underserved regions of the world. The nurses now share Cardiostart’s warehouse space in Tampa, Florida, for all of the donated supplies they collect. And they continue to go on medical missions and inspire their colleagues to join them.

The past two years have been pivotal ones for Mauri. Collecting supplies and participating in medical missions are still core values, but now she hopes to move what was a small grass-roots effort to the next level.

In 2007, she gained official 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for Nurses with a Mission and has begun to recruit a board of directors to guide the organization’s growth. She would like to establish chapters of Nurses with a Mission in other cities throughout the U.S. And, she hopes to develop a medical mission nurse certification program and obtain permission to offer continuing education credits for nurses who participate in mission work.

“There is the possibility of us growing so much bigger than I ever thought possible,” says Mauri. She also hopes to explore her growing interest in alternative healing and to develop trips for nurses to countries where alternative healing methods are prevalent.