A Red Cross Hero’s Words: ‘I Am My Best Self in Situations Like These’

A Red Cross Hero’s Words: 'I Am My Best Self in Situations Like These' (Claire Liszkay)

In 2005, Claire Liszkay went on a trip to Nicaragua and what was originally a personal mission to learn Spanish turned into a life-changing experience. Liszkay watched workers at a local hospital strike over a lack of resources and funds. “I saw the disparity between folks who have and folks who don’t have. I had never considered healthcare as a profession until this moment. I applied to nursing school from Nicaragua,” says Liszkay.

Now a nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Liszkay has volunteered to support disaster relief efforts near and far with life-saving medical care at every opportunity and at times sacrifices her own safety in order to help.

As a nurse at Rush Rehabilitation Center in 2010, she traveled to Haiti to support earthquake relief through Rush University’s Global Health program. Liszkay and her team provided medical care, prescription services, and rehydration treatment. They also established multiple clinics that resulted in a permanent, self-sustaining clinic now run by the local community with continued support from Rush University. “That was when I began to understand, in real life, what disaster response looks like,” says Liszkay. Since then, she has visited the island nine times to be part of the continuity of care. Working in Haiti was only the beginning of Liszkay’s passion for medical disaster response.

In Liszkay’s current role at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, she was the first nurse to volunteer to care for patients coming into the hospital with Ebola symptoms. Later, Liszkay went on to spend six weeks in the epicenter of the Ebola crisis, Sierra Leone. There, she provided care to those who had potentially contracted the virus.

“I knew when the epidemic happened that I would get myself there,” says Liszkay. “I felt a calling. I would have had to talk myself out of going.”

In Sierra Leone, she worked at a holding center created to care for people with Ebola symptoms. The holding center comprised little more than a collection of tents, tarps, cots, and a generator. It was staffed by a couple dozen people from across the globe. Upon returning to the U.S., Liszkay was quarantined for three weeks to ensure she had not contracted the virus.

Liszkay is committed to providing medical care to those who need it most, both abroad and at home. She knows that you don’t have to go far to find healthcare disparity. In 2016 and 2017, Liszkay provided medical care in Missouri’s rural Mississippi Riverbank, where there’s a chronic lack of access to care. Last year, she was part of a medical team supporting those affected by Hurricane Irma in Big Pine Key, Florida. Liszkay also traveled to Houston to assist primary care clinics with the increased patient loads after Hurricane Harvey displaced a large portion of the local population.

She reflects on her commitment to disaster relief by saying, “I think I am my best self in situations like these — my best self and my best nurse.”


The Disaster Services Award is presented to an individual(s) who has exhibited heroic efforts in any or all of the areas of disaster services, including preparedness, response or recovery during a natural disaster or emergency situation, or has made an ongoing commitment to a community that experienced a disaster in response to an identified need.

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