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Lincoln Memorial Hospital Physical Therapist Travels Overseas with Mercy Ships to Care for Others


For nearly 30 years, Chrissy Willoughby searched for an organization that would combine her physical therapy skills with mission work before a television commercial about Mercy Ships caught her attention in early 2022.

As a result of that commercial, and months of applications and preparations, the Lincoln Memorial Hospital physical therapist embarked upon a medical humanitarian trip to Sierra Leone, Africa, to provide hope and healing to those dealing with injury or afflictions.

Her nearly three months of service coincided with the plastic surgeon rotation on her ship. Other rotations include dental work, maxillofacial surgery, eye surgery, orthopedic surgery, gynecological surgery and general surgery.

Nearly 650 people served on the ship in medical, technical and general roles. Her time there led to a greater appreciation for the accessibility of quality healthcare in the United States and especially in central Illinois.

One of her most memorable patients was a girl who suffered from a mid-face tumor. As the tumor grew larger, and with no maxillofacial surgeon available for removal, the 14-year-old girl was at risk for complications like an impacted airway, limited ability to feed herself or even swallow. The tumor also affected her eye socket and vision.

Willoughby remembers the day the dressings came off the girl after successful maxillofacial surgery on the ship. The patient’s mother was jumping for joy and hugged Chrissy and others when her daughter saw herself in the mirror for the first time.

“She ran to me and grabbed me; she was so excited!” Willoughby recalled. “This girl at 14 – her mom knew what would happen to her daughter if nothing was done. They just don’t have the social resources we have.”

Willoughby is back on the job as a per diem employee at Lincoln Memorial Hospital caring for physical therapy patients. She was able to take an unpaid leave of absence without worrying about losing her job.

“Overall, it was a tremendous experience,” she said. “It took me many years to get my life together to be able to do this. But it is still important to do these types of service opportunities here at home as well. It isn’t better or worse, just a different setting.”