Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Helen O’Keeffe Vajk

Each month, we spotlight a MedShare volunteer. Without their hard work, our mission of bridging the gap between surplus and need wouldn’t be possible.

This month’s volunteer feature honors Dr. Helen O’Keeffe Vajk, an anesthesiologist from Walnut Creek, California. Since retiring from Kaiser Permanente two years ago, Helen has generously contributed over 75 hours of service to helping us bridge the gap between surplus and need. MedShare comes full circle for Helen: in addition to sorting supplies and helping run our medical team store, Helen also takes medical mission trips to South America and Africa where she uses MedShare-provided supplies on patients. She is a delightful person (we all love her Irish accent!), and MedShare is lucky to have her as a volunteer.

Dr. Helen O'Keeffe Vajk

Name: Helen O’Keeffe Vajk

Age and Occupation: 67 years old, anesthesiologist

Born and grew up in Dublin, Ireland, family immigrated to San Francisco when I was 13. We now live in Walnut Creek, California – this makes me almost a native of the Bay Area.

Please describe yourself in one sentence.
Internationally-minded homebody.

When did you first hear about MedShare?
In 2009 I retired from Kaiser-Permanente, Walnut Creek. One of my OB-Gyn colleagues, Karen Rice had been involved with MedShare’s Western Region from the beginning, and told me all about it.

How long have you been volunteering at MedShare?
Well, I came one day with Karen, and have never stopped since.

What inspired you to get involved?
I always hated the amount of medical waste, both knowing that somewhere in the world this would be valuable, and that it was creating unnecessary landfill. MedShare seemed like a brilliant solution, better than any one hospital could do on its own.

What is it that motivates you to keep volunteering at MedShare? I especially like that the recipients get to order exactly what they need, again avoiding waste.

Have you been involved with MedShare in other ways besides sorting supplies?
If so, please explain. I have also been involved for 10 years with Rotaplast International. My part is giving anesthesia for cleft lip and palate surgeries all around the world. Since my retirement 2 years ago, I’ve been doing 3-4 overseas trips a year, and also helping to obtain and pack supplies.

What has been your favorite MedShare moment or story during your time serving with us?
One cool moment was unpacking our supplies in Guatemala, and seeing a box from MedShare!

(This story is an excerpt from our February e-newsletter. To read the entire newsletter – featuring a great Valentine’s Day gift idea and stories of a medial mission team in Rubin Dario, Nicaragua and MedShare’s relationship with Ecuador– click here.)


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