After a 45-year nursing career, a Racine woman decided to move to another continent to help others.
Louise Omdahl has clocked 45 years in nursing, 34 of them with Ascension Wisconsin. Omdahl just wrapped up her final days as a family nurse practitioner at the Mount Pleasant clinic.
"Very bittersweet, it really is. I don’t feel old enough to be retiring, but it’s OK because I’m non-retiring," Omdahl said with a laugh.
Over the years, Omdahl completed more than a dozen medical missions around the world. Four of them were in Liberia, Africa. Her office is filled with keepsakes.
"When I went in 2010, I really fell in love with the country and I said, 'yup, Liberia is where I belong,'" Omdahl said.
The mother of four who grew up in Cudahy has dreamed of putting down roots in the West African country. While working with a missionary group, Omdahl will see patients and teach nursing students for at least two years.
"I’ve always felt like God gave me all this knowledge and ability to learn things for more reasons than just to have an easy life, not that nursing is necessarily an easy life, but in America, it really is. There’s no two ways around it. I’ve just felt that, you know, God loves me. I can share it elsewhere and that’s what I’m going to do in very tangible ways, because people need the health care," Omdahl said.
Liberia is more than 5,000 miles away and has a smaller population than Wisconsin. It is a country that has been through a lengthy civil war, an Ebola outbreak and so many infectious diseases.
Omdahl recalled that after the civil war and again after the Ebola outbreak, the country's infrastructure and health care system were destroyed. At one point, there were so few physicians in the country that Omdahl said she knew all of them.
"It’s a matter of working with them and helping them be where they want to be, because for so long they just didn’t have the opportunity," Omdahl said.
"It’s a country that’s gone through so much, and yet the people are so open and so loving and so friendly, and still see the best in life."
Coworkers were not surprised about Omdahl's next chapter.
"She’s going to have a big impact. She’s a great teacher. She’s very thorough, very caring, very kind," said Linda Paul, a registered nurse.
"We’re going to miss her greatly. Our patients are going to really miss her, but Liberia, it's going to be really - it’s a blessing for them to get her because she'll do a lot of great work," said Dr. Darnella Gist, a family medicine physician.
Amid the hectic packing and preparing, Omdahl seemed calm and ready to chase her dream.
"I’m going to miss that of all the patients that I see, and I’m going to miss all the people I worked with. I’ve worked with fabulous people over the years," Omdahl said.
In addition to her work, Omdahl will bring needed oxygen tank regulators from Ascension Wisconsin to Liberia.
Omdahl still has a lengthy to-do list before she heads out, but if all goes well, she will be in Liberia before summer ends.