During her several trips to Haiti to provide medical services between 2006 and 2014, Sue Maydwell and her team had limited supplies and dealt with diseases that in America, felt like things of the distant past. Their only exam surface was a card table.
Their mission wasn't to solve the Caribbean nation's health care crisis, but rather to provide whatever relief they could. But her multiple visits to the country — both before and after the 2010 earthquake — got her thinking about health care access.
Even though the situation in Haiti was far worse than where she lived in Keene, she knew she could use her experiences abroad to make a difference at home. In 2014, she was instrumental in setting up a clinic to help people in the area experiencing homelessness.
"I once had a provider here, and he said, 'You're going to Haiti all the time and doing all this great service in another country, but what about Cheshire County?' " Maydwell remembered. "And it really was a good point."
At 57, the Alexandria, Va., native who has lived in Keene since 1991, has made nine mission trips to Haiti and drew from those experiences to help launch a short-lived but impactful health care clinic at Hundred Nights. Since the early 2000s, Maydwell has worked as a physician assistant at Cheshire Medical Center.
Despite a long and unique career in health care, Maydwell almost didn't end up in the field. In fact, she originally earned a degree from the University of New Hampshire in environmental conservation, and was in that line of work for several years, holding jobs at an environmental testing lab in Hampton before moving to Keene. She then spent a couple of years at Badger in Gilsum before moving to the now closed Schleicher and Schuell facility in Keene.
But she'd always been interested in pursuing a medical career, which she said stemmed from an innate desire to help others, as well as from watching the way doctors were able to help her brother, Mark Maydwell, overcome a congenital disease he struggled with as a child.
"Being part of that upbringing, and just my sense of wanting to help people, is really what led me to medicine," she said.
In 2003, she became a certified physician assistant after completing a program at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Before graduating, she did clinical rotations at Cheshire Medical Center, and landed a job there right out of school.
Then, in 2006, Maydwell learned that a P.A. she worked with, Ed Amos, was organizing a medical clinic in Haiti, and she decided to get involved. She would go down for a week at a time to treat Haitians who were struggling with food and water insecurity, which led to problems ranging from malnutrition to parasites. Others lacked access to tools like glasses, which could threaten their ability to receive an education.
If someone came in with a severe enough problem, the volunteers would often pay for taxis to take them to the nearest hospital, which became more difficult after the earthquake, when some of the roadways become impassable. Maydwell said conditions that have long left the American consciousness — like scabies, dysentery and cholera — were all too common.
"We worried about the spread of disease," she said, "things that can kill a village."
In 2013, Maydwell was invited to join the board of directors at Hundred Nights, a homeless shelter and resource center in Keene, where she served until 2016. While serving in that role, Maydwell started thinking about local access to health care, and ways she could improve this for people experiencing homelessness.
So, along with Dr. Carl DeMatteo, Maydwell helped launch the Be Well clinic at Hundred Nights. The clinic ran from 2014 through 2016 and saw dozens of patients during that time.
She said a former computer room was renovated so that the shelter would have a simple but proper exam room in-house. And Maydwell said those living at the shelter said it was nice to feel there was a place for them to go.
"What I wanted more than anything was to provide an opportunity for access," she said. "I wouldn't have thought about that if I hadn't had my experiences beforehand."
Maydwell was nominated for the Extraordinary Women recognition by Susan Karalekas, who has been friends with her for 16 years and described her as the definition of humanitarianism. Karalekas said Maydwell "lives to reduce suffering" and improve the lives of people around her.
"Throughout her ups and downs in life, she is there for others," Karalekas said. "At home, she helped care for her elderly parents and has helped other family members over the years. And the thing is, she humbly works without looking for recognition, which is why I think recognizing her as one of the region's Extraordinary Women is important."
Today, Maydwell continues to work at Cheshire Medical, where she is currently in the hospital's pre-anesthesia testing unit. Over the years she has been in several departments, starting in family medicine before moving to orthopedics and then to where she is now.
And over the past year and a half, she has been standing by to assist in the emergency department if the need ever arose to respond to a high influx of COVID patients.
"I was actually trained in the ER for if they required a respiratory wing," she said. "I did that training that they required for me to do in the event that we had some type of surge or if there were issues with even the staff being sick or something like that. Honestly it never came to that in our community, at least for me."
When she's not working, Maydwell enjoys spending time with her three horses, mustangs Dillon and Delwhinnie and quarterhorse Cheese. She also has a 14-year-old dog named Kali.
Aside from health care, horses are Maydwell's other major interest in life. She's been active with several equine organizations, most recently joining the board of Cooper's Crossroads, a local nonprofit that uses horses to work with people who have experienced trauma or are otherwise struggling with their mental health.
"The things that I've been learning now through this work, I can bring to my practice," she said. "I really like that, in terms of trying to see my patients through a different lens."