Cindy Frisbie Hecklau ’73: Serving medical communities globally

Cindy Frisbie Hecklau ’73

Major: German

Bio: B.S.N. degree, Northwestern University, neonatal nurse and volunteer with ARPAN Global Charities. Former director of the Women’s and Children’s Division St. Jude Medical Center, Fullerton, California; former manager, Dignity Healthcare

“At Cornell I felt free to question something and determine what the best way for me would be.”

While working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at St. Jude Medical Center, I met a physician who ran a volunteer organization of doctors and nurses who participated in medical mission trips around the world. One day I asked about going, and by the end of my shift I was signed up to go to Amritsar, India.

I have been able to participate each year since then. I have gone to India, Peru, Ecuador, China, and Nepal. In India, I was out in the villages—a concrete structure with two walls and no doors. We worked until it got dark due to lack of lights. We had no way of getting any food while we were in the village, so they would bring us biscuits and freshly made chai from goat’s milk. It was very cold there in January, so this warm chai was a welcome treat. We wore our down jackets over our scrubs.

One of the most important lessons I learned was at an active leper colony. We were dressing the limbs of patients and giving treatment where we could. Often we saw these patients remove their dressings after we had dressed them. The reason? Because they were used to doing it their way and for them it worked. Just because we in the U.S. do it one way, does not mean it is the best way for those you are treating. I found that in every single country that I visited and it made me humble.

We are so fortunate to have all of the available medical treatments and equipment available that we often take it for granted. An example: We use supportive positioning devices made of cotton in the NICU to position babies. This is especially helpful when an infant is on a ventilator. China had nothing like this. So when I got back home I made cloth sacks filled with rice and sent them to the NICU in China.

In Nepal I was asked to prepare lectures for the nursing staff in the NICU. These were then translated into Nepalese for the staff. It became more about what their practices were and how we could integrate some of our practices into theirs. Not criticizing how they gave care but showing an alternative. It really made for a much more successful mission.

My experiences were mostly positive. The people everywhere were welcoming and grateful for whatever we did. For me these were life changing experiences. I feel so fortunate to be able to participate.

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