Into Africa

Susan Nagele

The career of Susan Nagele (BS, '78, biology) is decidedly uncharacteristic of our times. In an age when many pursue instant wealth and leisure, this year's College of LAS Humanitarian Award winner, who is a Maryknoll Catholic missionary, aspires to serve humanity and forsake worldly amenities. It's been her dream for 16 years, and she wouldn't trade it for a fortune.

After completing her BS in biology in 1978 and then receiving her medical training at Southern Illinois University, Nagele bypassed a lucrative medical career in the United States to administer medical care to the world's poorest citizens. In Tanzania, in 1984, she established outpatient services and built a 36-bed inpatient facility for obstetrics and minor surgery. When she moved to war-torn Sudan in 1991, she founded several medical outposts, often rebuilding after facilities were bombed. She has fought her own malaria and dysentery in the middle of a raging civil war. At one point she was the only doctor for more than 30,000 displaced persons in two refugee camps.

She endures temperatures that regularly soar to 120 degrees in the afternoon and chronically inadequate medical supplies. Her work involves tremendous self-sacrifice and constant exposure to misery, yet her faith in God has never wavered. Nor have her personal beliefs allowed her to indulge in self-pity because, as she simply puts it, "[I] am not in Africa to suffer; there is enough suffering in the world." Nagele has acquired fluency in several languages to better communicate with her patients about the meningitis, measles and a myriad of other diseases endemic to the region, imparting hope and support to people who have none.

As says her friend and former junior high school teacher, Carol Dapogny, "Susan walks not in the shadow but in the footsteps of other great humanitarians—the women and men who have literally given themselves for the good of others."

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Holly Korab