Donna Collins wanted to be an elephant keeper at a zoo, then a motor mechanic before mum told her to do something feminine for once in her life.
Like most of the "misfits" — her word — post-secondary school, she went backpacking across the ditch and ended up working on a prawn trawler in Darwin as a cook and deckhand after running out of dosh.
"That was my big Australia," chuckles the now 52-year-old Whangarei nurse and midwife.
The actual big OE followed, in the UK, which lasted six years, in which time she did her midwifery training.
That was in the early 90s.
It wasn't until some 20 years later she became almost the first port of call for the New Zealand Red Cross to help out in disaster zones throughout the globe.
Donna is sassy, affable and has a good sense of humour.
It's incredible she's able to maintain a happy face after seeing people in impoverished countries die from ebola, shifting bodies after a natural disaster and working in unbearable heat for up to a month without a day off.
Human suffering certainly tests her mettle but doesn't break her resolve and hunger to do more.
She has witnessed some heart-breaking moments and incredible survival stories in Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, and Nepal while working as a Red Cross volunteer.
Born on Auckland's North Shore, she grew up in Glenfield. Going to the Auckland Zoo with mum and dad influenced her to work there but apparently she needed a zoology degree.
It wasn't just piling up elephant poo.
"I am not sure why, but I listened to mum and so I went into nursing. Apparently that was feminine at the time. So I did my enrolled nursing at North Shore Hospital," Donna recalled, looking out the window of her Onerahi home overlooking Whangarei Harbour.
In August 2014, her phone went off while she was at her girls' netball competition in Auckland.
That was someone from the NZ Red Cross asking her whether she wanted to go to Sierra Leone in Africa where ebola was spreading like wildfire.
"It was incredibly tough. For those people, it was a death sentence and it was a really quick and horrible death. It's a hemorrhagic disease so people literally internally bleed to death.
"It was really awful. Some people did survive and the survival stories were what kept us going. But it was a really quite frightening time because the spread was so acute.
"So I could hand you a piece of paper and, if I had Ebola, you could actually catch it off that piece of paper. That's how incredibly intense it was."
Donna saw a woman who was about 27 weeks pregnant and she was talking to the medical staff but looked unwell.
"When we went in next time, she was a mess, she was bleeding from every orifice. By then the baby had already died and she died soon after. It was just the most undignified, terrible death. It was stinking hot, there were flies everywhere.
"The fact that we could not even provide air-conditioning for these people. They died in this heat with the flies. It was just hideous. That will always be with me."
Her second deployment to earthquake-ravaged Nepal in 2015 was a different kettle of fish.
"I was part of the assessment team, getting into communities that had been cut off so were still moving dead bodies and finding people with severe injuries. We found a body floating in the river. We couldn't retrieve it, it was well down in a huge crevice."
A second big earthquake happened while she was standing in a pine forest beside a hospital for disabled children.
"What amazed me was I was with a Spanish team and the Spanish guys were builders and engineers. The minute the earthquake struck, I am still standing registering that it's an earthquake.
"These guys were running up the stairs of this hospital, retrieving all the disabled kids, arms full of kids carrying downstairs."
Next was helping control dengue outbreak in the Solomon Islands from November 2016 to February 2017.
Her third assignment treating displaced Rohingya people at refugee camp in Bangladesh last November was right up there with ebola in terms of trauma.
"Some of those really traumatic cases still go over in my head. I saw the worst part of humanity in Bangladesh.
"What had happened to some of the refugees on their journey was horrific and we were the first point of contact to help them.
"I just didn't know that human beings could be so appalling to other human beings, and that sort of burst my bubble."
The Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps in Cox's Bazar are spread over more than 14sq km and house more than a million displaced people.
Donna treated up to 230 refugees a day with a myriad of problems in a makeshift ED/outpatients' department where they were triaged, treated or moved to appropriate rooms such as the operating theatre, maternity, paediatrics, male, female or isolation wards.
Donna had a week off after she got home and in hindsight, she thinks she probably should have had two or three weeks off.
Her daughter Anna offered to buy her Christmas presents so she didn't have to go into town.
Her expertise and experience was called upon yet again when Tropical Cyclone Gita struck Tonga.
Most of the deployments she's done using her own annual leave. They are her holidays.
"My idea of a holiday, although I like lying by a pool and drinking cocktails, I would much rather pull up my sleeves and get in and do some midwifery or some nursing that's gonna help other people who've got a greater need than I do."
Sierra Leone has a special place in her heart and that's one place she would love to go back to on a holiday.
"The people who survived Ebola, I often think about them really fondly because we thought we were saying goodbye to them and then they walked out and said goodbye to us.
"I'd love to go back there and just visit the graveyard. The graveyard was enormous as we were burying people all the time and I'd like to go back and pay respects to them."
After seeing first-hand the harrowing cases, Donna not only feels an even greater urge to help but to up the ante in countries besieged by conflict.
Once her foster daughter, who is in Year 12, flies the coop, Donna is keen to do longer-term Red Cross deployments.
"The deployments I've done are mostly with Emergency Response Units whereas I'd quite like to go with International Red Cross on six-month to one-year deployments to places like Syria and Afghanistan."
Being a nurse for 32 years and midwife for 25 years, she thinks that experience counts for something and she's got to keep using it. She has advice for others wanting to follow in her footsteps.
"They need to set themselves up financially because otherwise it's difficult.
"You go to these places and life at home stops because you're immersed in a different culture. But meanwhile at home the home fires have to keep burning.
"You've got to have good family support. I don't think you can do it if your family aren't backing you. My kids are incredibly proud of me and positive about where I go.
"Get a job that you can leave at 24 to 48 hours notice. Northland DHB are so supportive. Literally when there's a disaster, it's often my boss going 'Are you going?' rather than me going 'Can I go?'"
Donna has two daughters, a son and two foster children.