‘It was a warzone’: Utah midwife dedicated to providing care around the world

Jun 3, 2018, 7:40 PM | Updated: Jun 4, 2018, 6:35 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Choosing a career can be a tough decision.  For Kirsti Rinne, the choice was simple; her job chose her.


Kirsti Rinne works with a patient at the University of Utah Hospital.

“Initially I became a nurse practitioner, but I was really interested in global health,” she said, sitting in an exam room at the University of Utah Hospital.

Her path became clear when she was only 16, living in Beijing with her father, who was working as a consultant.

“We lived in an apartment right next to a shanty town,” said Rinne.  “We would go to the market through the shanty town, and I think it was just one of those ages where so much of what you want to be is shaped.”

After becoming a nurse practitioner she applied to Doctors without Borders, but was told what they really needed was midwives.  Instead of giving up and following a more traditional path, Rinne went back to school — in 2015, she landed in Ethiopia, ready to deploy her skills as a midwife.

Kirsti Rinne lived in Beijing when she was 16.

“There’s no electricity, there’s no running water, there’s no cell phone access, there’s no internet access,” she said.  “So it was unlike anywhere I’d been.

My first day off in Ethiopia, it was a Sunday, and I was sitting down and writing about my experience and how happy I was to be there, and just blown away by what a different world it is there.”

She spent six months on the ground in Ethiopia ­— and this year, she went to Africa again: this time to South Sudan.

“It was very, very different,” Rinne said.  “South Sudan is one of the newest countries in the world, and it has been in a procracted war for years.  It was a warzone.  So I heard gunfire every day, we oftentimes had people coming in who were victims of violence.  On top of that, because people are always on the move, there’s no resources.”

Rinne spent about six months working as a midwife in Ethiopia, starting in 2015.

Although Rinne says security was tight and she felt safe, theirs was the only health care facility in the entire region — meaning the work was nonstop.

“I had patients walk one or two days to come and…get care,” she said.

She was also the only person trained to handle pregnancies — meaning she was on call 24 hours a day, and delivered an unbelievable 150 babies in three short months.

“So crazy,” Rinne said.  “I mean, it was busy.  It was hard.  There were lots of nights where I had to ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’  And it was to be part of something bigger.”

With all the people she helped — all the mothers, all the babies, all the victims of sexual violence — Rinne says she gained just as much as she gave.

“You take every superfluous thing away,” she said.  “I wore the same thing, I ate the same thing, I did the same thing every single day, and you learn about what’s really important to you.  What matters is people, what matters is relationships, what matters is experiences.  Everything else is just extra.”

Kirsti Rinne at work in Ethiopia.

Kirsti Rinne tends to a baby in South Sudan.

The medical facility where Kirsti Rinne worked in South Sudan.

A baby at Rinne’s facility in South Sudan.

Rinne says some patients walked one or two days to get medical care.

Rinne spent about three months living and working in South Sudan.

Rinne poses with some locals in South Sudan.

Kirsti Rinne shares a laugh with some children in South Sudan.


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‘It was a warzone’: Utah midwife dedicated to providing care around the world