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A nurse on a mission: Remembering African Christian Hospital’s Iris Hays Savio


Iris Hays at Nigerian Christian Hospital, circa 1965. (Photo provided by Windle and Barbara Kee)

My friends Windle and Barbara Kee, longtime missionaries to the African nations of Nigeria and Cameroon and the Central American nation of Belize, sent me a tribute to their former coworker, Iris Hays Savio.
Savio, 71, died Sept. 11 while visiting family in the U.S. The church member lived in Italy with her husband, Giuseppe. She was one of the first nurses to serve at Nigerian Christian Hospital, a church-supported medical mission in southeastern Nigeria. She worked alongside the hospital’s first located surgeon, Dr. Henry Farrar, who died Feb. 22, 2010.
Here are some remembrances of Savio from the Kees:

Iris Hays and Nancy Petty were the first nurses at Nigerian Christian Hospital in 1965. They had trained the first nurses for the hospital. They were still there in 1967 when we arrived in Nigeria. Iris and Nancy were our closest neighbors, just down a little path behind our house. Our children loved living on the compound with lots of kids and Iris and Nancy were so good with all the children. We played, laughed and sang a lot with Iris and Nancy.
We had arrived in a turbulent time in the history of Onicha Ngwa and Nigerian Christian Hospital in 1967, but everyone put on a good face and we worked and had fun with the Farrars, Tarbets, Nancy and Iris until we all had to leave because of war. It was called the “war of Biafra.” We didn’t know when we’d ever see one another again.

Dr. Henry Farrar and Iris Hays at Nigeria Christian Hospital in the 1960s. (Photo provided by Windle and Barbara Kee)

Well, the Lord had a plan that both Iris and Nancy would be back in our lives. They came to Cameroon — where we had evacuated to — in less than a year.  When the Christian Mobile Clinic was started, the personnel were trained by Iris, Charley Bridges and Nancy. I remember Iris working hard on getting the food charts, health and hygiene posters ready. They were so good to let Alicejoy and Paul help with the clinic and evangelization. The clinic lasted 25 years and helped thousands of people.
The Lord helped Iris find her life’s mate, Giuseppe Savio, in Kumba, Cameroon. Iris and Giuseppe started a construction company in Cameroon and during their many years in Africa they hosted, fed and encouraged every missionary to Cameroon. There have been hundreds to benefit from their love, generosity and hospitality. They lived in Cameroon until 1992 and in Italy since that time.
God blessed us and our family by knowing Iris for 45 years and Giuseppe for at least 43. We need to all look at the example of this virtuous woman and try to meet up with her again.

The Kees also include a note from Farrar’s widow, Grace:

Iris Hays Savio (Photo provided by Windle and Barbara Kee)

Our first association with Iris was when she arrived in Nigeria in 1965. It was so remarkable that the two nurses, Iris and Nancy, both in their early 20s, with no training or experience in hospital administration, accomplished what would have seemed the impossible. Neither had ever been out of the country before nor had they met face-to-face, yet the Lord brought them together to do his work and they became lifelong friends.
They equipped and trained staff, first for a clinic and then for a hospital. Iris had a special.gif?Action=thumbnail&Width=460&algorithm=proportionalt for organization and planned a school of nursing. It was not government-registered because we had no midwife, but the girls they trained were the best nurses we ever had. They were village girls with about a sixth-grade education. Think of them as having grown up on a dirt floor and the nurses teaching sterile technique for a hospital.
They also had to equip and staff the pharmacy, registration and other departments. They were examples of Christian behavior to the women of an uneducated, pagan area.

Filed under: Breaking News News Extras

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