From Mercy Ships to Manuscripts: Catching Up with Hannah Thyberg ’12

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Hannah Thyberg, Templeton and Eastern Alumna ’12, and in doing my research was immediately impressed with the projects she is affiliated with and the immense and positive impact of those projects, including  Mercy Ships and contributions to a recently published book. Upon receiving her responses I was again impressed, this time by the thoroughness with which she had answered my questions, so, instead of inflicting my words and formatting upon this piece, I thought that it would be best if I were just to let her words speak for themselves:

Mercy Ships

©Mercy Ships, credit: Elizabeth Nain

When I was fourteen years old I traveled to El Salvador with Compassion International to meet my sponsor child, Wendy. While there, I visited a small village clinic. The people were learning to brush their teeth for the first time on the day we visited.  The spectacle was amusing […] but it was also somewhat heartbreaking to witness. […] It was then that I realized that health is a privilege. I come from a country where access to medical care is readily available. It was a shock to realize that not everyone has the same luxury. This inspired me to pursue a career where I would be able to help empower individuals in need by providing access to care they would not otherwise have.

I purposefully chose to major in Communication Studies at Eastern University so that I would have a versatile foundation to build from. […] I knew that regardless of what my next steps were, a degree in Communication Studies would serve me well. My courses in interpersonal relationships, cross-cultural communication, and conflict resolution have been tremendously helpful to me in the field of nursing. […] It is easy to treat patients as a set of symptoms rather than as human beings. The education I received has enabled me to provide holistic and personal care. I am better equipped to interact with a myriad of people, to educate effectively, and to show compassion. These courses have also afforded me a skill-set that improves my working partnership with colleagues.

My work has involved caring for a wide variety of patients. I work primarily on a plastics reconstructive ward. A large number of our patients are burn victims. The primary goal of our surgeries is to help restore function to extremities that have become contracted as a result of the injuries. This is a long and painful process. Our patients are often with us for weeks or even months as they heal. I have witnessed incredible bravery from my patients as they struggle through the recovery process. The spirit and resilience of the people is breathtaking and has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. In addition to my work on the plastics ward I have also taken care of patients with congenital and orthopedic deformities, vaginal fistulas, and maxillofacial tumors. Each condition has its challenges and its joys. It has been so eye-opening to be a part of.

The experience has been very challenging professionally, as I have had to treat medical conditions that simply don’t exist at home. This has pushed me outside of my comfort zone and broadened my abilities as a nurse. I’ve also been forced to reconcile with the suffering that comes as a result of poverty. There are many cases I’ve seen that are preventable if treated quickly and appropriately. These people lack access to care, whether it be due to distance, finances, availability or knowledge. It is difficult to accept that the limitations of their reality have such life-altering consequences. It makes me incredibly grateful for organizations like Mercy Ships that provide assistance to meet such a great need.

Mercy Ships does amazing work to provide physical healing to their patients. But their work goes far beyond medicine. Such a large part of the healing process is emotional and spiritual. Many of these people are outcasts in their society. Their family and friends have shunned them because of their illness. Children have been abandoned, wives have been deserted, and men cast out from their places of work. There are people who haven’t been touched in years because they are considered “dirty.”. I have the amazing privilege to hold hands and give hugs and to cry alongside those who have been starved for affection for so long. What marvels me is how much connection can be created without words. The language barrier can certainly be an impediment at times, but overall the divide in culture has been bridged by the common human expressions of joy, sorrow, and love.

My time with Mercy Ships has been inimitably rewarding. It has challenged and enlightened my perspective about my life and my work. Most importantly, it has been an opportunity for me to reconnect with the passion that inspired me to become a nurse. I hope to bring just a small fraction of the love and life I’ve witnessed here in Cameroon back home with me.

For more information about Mercy Ships, please visit


I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia when I was a freshman in college. College is a significant period of transition for everyone. It is the time that we take our first steps into the world of adulthood, a time that we discover who we are and where we want to go. I found my own path of discovery to be exponentially complicated by the strain of illness. I struggled immensely to figure out how to integrate a chronic condition into my life. The support of the Eastern community was really significant for me. […] My peers offered compassion and support in a time of pain and vulnerability. My professors offered flexibility and accommodation, without which I would not have been able to succeed. I was truly blessed by the community at Eastern and I am thankful to this day for the way in which it helped shape me into the woman that I am. Though many individuals at Eastern played an important role in my life, Dr. Kesha Morant-Williams was a particularly influential part of my college experience. She served as both a mentor and an advocate. We remained in touch after I graduated and it was through her invitation that I came to be involved in the writing project.

Hannah Thyberg, Pediatric Ward Nurse, playing cat’s whiskers with one of her patients. ©Mercy Ships, credit: Shawn Thompson

I am so grateful to have been a contributing author in Reifying Women’s Experiences with Invisible Illness: Illusions, Delusions, Reality. Writing this chapter was a very meaningful experience for me. It allowed me to reflect more deeply on myself and my journey with Fibromyalgia. Reconciling with my feelings was an emotional process. It was also a challenge to condense my experience to words. Being open and vulnerable is difficult, especially in a public context. Although I felt some initial hesitation in sharing my story with complete strangers, I am grateful that I had the opportunity. Getting to share my story alongside these incredible women was such an honor.

Each of the chapters offers a powerful message about the realities of invisible illness. […] What most people don’t comprehend is the actual lived experience of illness. These women impart insight into experiences that often go unrecognized. When conditions are not readily apparent they are easily overlooked or met with a lack of compassion. This book provides the general public with an opportunity to gain appreciation and awareness of a world they might not otherwise know. The book also provides a source of solidarity and encouragement to those struggling with invisible illness. One of the most difficult parts of my illness has been loneliness and isolation. There are times that living with a chronic condition is nothing but suffering and surviving. It has only been through the support of communities, such as Templeton, that I’ve been able to transition to a place of thriving. It is my hope that others would gain a similar sense of community and feel less alone in reading these words. Moreover I hope that individuals might find strength to celebrate their own journeys.

General Reflection

I have a lot of fond memories from my time at Templeton. My college experience was filled with fun things like camping trips and Christmas parties. But it was also filled with formative things, like substantive exploration of what it means to live well. In my years since graduation I have continued to reflect on what it means to pursue a meaningful life. I’ve been fortunate to have found my path in nursing. It is a field that inspires and fulfills me. It is my life’s vocation. I look forward with anticipation and optimism to see how I will grow into the fullness of my calling over time.

Chiara Behm ’20 is a Templeton scholar majoring in Classical Studies. Outside of the classroom she enjoys art, literature, and spending time with family and friends (and also may or may not be up to no good…). In the future she hopes to teach the Classics at a collegiate level.


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