Newborns, NICUs and New Opportunities for Giving Back

This guest article comes from Stacey Bledsoe, an advisor with Lilly global pediatrics who also oversees a new medical outreach program for Lilly health care professionals. Our first team of medical volunteers with Connecting Hearts Abroad begins its work this week in rural Ghana. Read more Connecting Hearts Abroad stories here.

I love babies. It’s why I became a pediatric nurse. But caring for sick or premature infants can take its toll on you emotionally, especially when you’re pregnant yourself. So when I left my job as a neonatal intensive care nurse nearly 15 years ago, I never imagined that one day I’d return to the NICU—this time in Ghana as part of a medical outreach pilot with Lilly. But that’s exactly what happened. And the way it came about is one of the reasons I love working at Lilly.

It’s hard not to be affected by the global health crises we see in the news. As health care professionals, we don’t change who we are when we walk through the door at the end of the day. So when my supervisor shared his desire to volunteer at a refugee camp, one thing led to another and soon we were having conversations with senior medical and global health leaders at Lilly about how our physicians, nurses and pharmacists could use their medical expertise to help vulnerable people and communities. A few months later, I was in Africa as part of a medical outreach pilot to understand the needs and challenges of a regional hospital in Ghana.

That experience changed my life.

It was my first trip to Africa and, as an African-American, I wasn’t sure how I would be received. But the Ghanaians’ warm reception erased all my concerns. They were kind, gracious and eager for me to understand and help solve the challenges they face. The experience changed how I perceive myself and my background. I’m already planning to return to Africa, this time with my teenage daughter.

While I hadn’t worked in a hospital setting in more than a decade, the nurse in me immediately kicked in. I was able to share my knowledge and experience as a pediatric nurse with the hospital staff in Ghana—and to consult with them on ways to improve outcomes for their NICU patients. It was an awesome experience and one of the most rewarding of my career.

It’s my hope that this year’s inaugural class of medical ambassadors will have life-changing experiences, too, as they volunteer at community clinics across several rural regions in Ghana. They’ll assess patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and other health conditions. They’ll consult on treatment plans and collaborate with local providers. And they’ll care for patients living in these remote areas.

I’m excited for my colleagues to share their medical skills and passions through our new outreach program. Because whether it’s through our “day jobs” or as medical volunteers abroad, our hope is to make life better. It’s who we are. It’s what we do. And I’m proud to be a part of it.