Uganda For Love: LaPlace nurse takes mission to Africa

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, July 5, 2017

LAPLACE — Erica Rogers didn’t exactly jump at the chance to go to Africa when offered.

Floundering a bit after a rough divorce and nine years as a nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the LaPlace native had to mull over the offer to join a medical mission across the globe.

She took her time.

“I didn’t answer the phone for about five days,” said Rogers, who had posted her name on a portal looking for volunteers. “I was like, ‘Maybe I wasn’t thinking right.’ I ended up calling them back and he said, ‘You’re a lucky girl. We’re going to Uganda in two weeks.’ Now I’m thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to pull this off?’”

With donations from family and friends, Rogers made the trip, traversing the entire country and helping set up medical clinics at various villages.

“It totally changed my life,” she said.

Rogers, 33, leaves July 10 for her fourth trip, during which she will lead a group of volunteer doctors and nurses through her own organization, the Braveheart Foundation.

LaPlace nurse Erica Rogers, founder of the Braveheart Foundation, gets in some storytelling with children in the Kampala Uganda village. Rogers is returning to Africa this month.

For two weeks she and a dozen or so volunteers will help the locals set up camps in seven villages to deliver medical care. She hopes to continue making twice yearly trips.

“It’s very fulfilling,” said Rogers, who works as a nurse in the cardiac intensive care unit at Ochsner’s main campus. “I know this is my passion in life. It’s what I’m called to do. I know that without a shadow of a doubt.”

Rogers wasn’t always so sure about what she should be doing.

It was while she was working at MD Anderson that she met a patient who changed her life the first time.

“I took care of her and I developed a really good relationship with her,” Rogers said. “She was the one who inspired me when I was kind of uncertain about nursing. After I took care of her I realized that my care for people went beyond the bedside. I wanted more of a touch and a compassion, getting to know their heart and actually walking them through a different process.”

That is when Rogers founded Braveheart as a support group for cancer patients.

“Braveheart really started as a be brave, be strong thing to help people walk through the experience of cancer,” she said. “It was a way to help more people. Then it became a peer-to-peer network where, when one would be healed and feel comfortable in their journey, they would be able to help another person. I really enjoyed that.”

After her trip to Africa, Rogers turned Braveheart into a worldwide medical mission.

“They kept pressuring me and asking me to come back,” Rogers said. “I didn’t know how to do medical mission work. I mean, I knew how to do the work but, as far as putting it together, that’s just not my skill. I ended up doing it and recruiting my fellow nurses from Ochsner and some emergency room nurses around the area. We traveled the entire country of Uganda, all the way to the northwestern border, where it reaches Rwanda and the Congo.”

Rogers and her group set up medical camps with their own resources and donations from various hospitals and groups.

“We have our own ultrasound machines, our own EKG machines,” she said. “We buy machines used and bring them with us.”

This month’s trip will include a women’s medical clinic, a dental health clinic, a vision clinic and an urgent care clinic.

It also will include Rogers’ younger sister, Erin, 26, who is in the midst of completing her second master’s degree and studying for the MCAT. She has one master’s degree in public health from Tulane University’s School of Tropical Medicine and is working on a second in medical science with hopes of getting into medical school.

“It was just a beautiful experience,” Erin said of her first trip. “(Erica) didn’t have to convince me. She made me a believer from the pictures and she’s making people a believer in Braveheart every day. I’m extremely proud of her.”