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Manitowoc nurse returns home after a week treating refugees in Ukraine and Poland

Posted at 5:19 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 13:06:00-04

TWO RIVERS, Wis. (NBC 26) — As she watched the war in Ukraine unfold from her Manitowoc home, Michelle Petersen felt the urge to lend a helping hand.

"An overwhelming sense of responsibility and need to do more than just watch the media coverage back home and feel sad and wish that there was something that could be done," she said.

So the Advocate Aurora nurse booked a flight to Poland to treat refugees at a border crossing.

"As a mother, just as a human, I can't fathom what it feels like to be enduring the struggles that they're facing every day," Petersen said. "And there's no end in sight."

On the first day of a week-long journey, Petersen says she was asked to enter Ukraine to assist at a school.

"That was probably the scariest part of our journey was when we actually crossed into Ukraine when we told our families we were not going to do that," she said.

The 45-year old worked to heal chronic conditions like headaches and joint pain.

"Everybody had complaints that we were able to treat," Petersen said. "It just felt like a day at work."

But at the refugee camp, there was a constant influx of people.

"We hear the sound of rollers, like a rolling suitcase," Petersen said. "And that will forever be sort of in our minds as the sound of our trip to Poland and Ukraine."

That wasn't the only sound Petersen heard with bombings just miles away.

"As we were preparing to leave, there was a rumbling of like thunder in the distance," she said.

"To take that next step and go into a danger zone to amplify their day-to-day activities to help out those in need, pretty incredible," Senior Director Adminstrator of Aurora Medical Center in Manitowoc County John Burris said.

Now Petersen is back in Wisconsin, but her work isn't finished.

"A piece of my heart is still there, and I feel like raising awareness and talking about the crisis," she said. "Anything that I can do to bring help or relief to the people who are there is the least that I could do for the fortunate position that I'm in."