Monday, June 8, 2009

Saving Vacation Time to Volunteer, Project HOPE's Megan Rohm Brings Smiles to Patients on the USNS Comfort

Three years ago, as a nursing student at Johns Hopkins University, Megan Rohm first learned of Project HOPE from a friend who had volunteered on a mission. "When I heard of Project HOPE, I felt like the mission aligned with my personal goal of providing care to underserved populations who lack access to basic hygience, care, and health education. Project HOPE offered the opportunity to use my nursing skills to benefit such people," Megan said.

After graduating, Megan moved to Seattle and began working as a telemetry nurse. For two years, she patiently gained the nursing experience that would allow her to serve with Project HOPE. It's not that Megan couldn't have applied to volunteer earlier. She just wanted to make sure that when she volunteered, her skills were strong enough to really help. So she worked, and she waited. And she worked, and she worked.

Megan's sights were set on volunteering with Project HOPE, so for those two years she didn't take vacation. Day-by-day she accumulated vacation hours until finally she had enough for six weeks off. Now she's spending every hour of vacation she'd earned serving with Project HOPE. Megan joined Continuing Promise 2009 one month ago in Antigua, and is serving on the mission's Antigua, Panama, and Colombia legs. She works in the USNS Comfort's "hotel"--the ward where patients and their families stay before surgeries. More than anything, people in the hotel need to be put at ease. "We try to lift their spirits before surgery," Megan said, "and to make the process more relaxed and fun."

Megan lights up when talking about her patients, especially the kids. The truth is, the kids are more than patients. They're fellow fans while watching movies. They're dance partners during the hotel's nightly dance parties. They're teammates during soccer games in the hallway. Megan says that her military counterparts are especially great with the kids. Different military branches have donated toys to the hotel, and the hotel's guests recently were treated to a visit and performance by the Air Force Band.

One patient in particular stands out for Megan. Eight-year-old Roberto was aboard the Comfort to have surgery to fix a hernia that he'd had for a year. Even though he was nervous about the surgery, and even when he was having blood drawn, he was "all smiles." When Megan went to visit him after the surgery, she could see that he was in a lot of pain. She brought him some toys. He thanked her with a huge hug. She's sure she got the better half of the trade.

-Daniel Feith

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