A gift for serving others

Shauna Mettee and Javier Guiterrez

Shauna Mettee (left in Bangladesh), and Javier Guiterrez (right) in Columbia.

RSPH students Shauna Mettee and Javier Guiterrez are among six university students who received Emory's Humanitarian Award for 2009.


In Brief

Responding to public health crises

Partners in public health

Rollins-teers honored for community service

Nutrition expert Glen Maberly retires

A physician, Javier Gutierrez, o9MPH, founded the only health clinic serving the poor in an all-but-forgotten corner of the Colombian Amazon. A registered nurse, Shauna Mettee, 09MSN/MPH, harnessed the energy of students and her own passion for service to broaden Emory's community outreach. Both are among the six students who received the 2009 Emory University Humanitarian Award for serving others. In 1989, fresh out of Bogota's best medical school, Gutierrez set out for an obligatory "rural year" with little more than a stethoscope and a suitcase full of clothes. Arriving in Letícia, a jungle outpost near the Brazilian border, he thought he would soon be back in Bogotá, working in a private hospital. "I never imagined I might stay," he says.

As the sole source of care for a population with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Colombia, not to mention widespread malnutrition and diarrhea among children under age 5, Gutierrez encountered maladies that urban physicians rarely see. In attending his patients, he established bonds with the local community that would not easily be broken—not by the higher pay of private practice or by the frustrations of working in a resource-strapped setting.  

Gutierrez did return to Bogotá, but only briefly—to complete an ob/gyn residency. Soon, he and his wife Gloria, an anesthesiologist, were back in Letícia, seeing patients at the same hospital. They worked there for six years before the hospital went bankrupt and closed its doors. "It was at that moment that we decided to go out on our own," he says. "We needed work, and the community needed health services."

In 2000, the couple founded Clinica Letícia, housed in a small hotel on the edge of town. With their personal savings and loans from friends, they leased the building and refurnished it. Today, it is a thriving community clinic offering general medical services and some specialized care.

"We have 110 full-time employees, 28 beds, two surgical rooms, two delivery rooms, and an ER," says Gutierrez. "And since there isn't transportation for people who live far away, we go into the jungle to find them."

Stanley Foster, professor of global health, is impressed. "Many countries require their medical graduates to work in different rural areas," says Foster, who nominated Gutierrez for the Humanitarian Award. "I've met few people who have returned to work in that area on a long-term basis. Javier breaks the mold."

Forging new alliances

The same is true of Shauna Mettee, who expanded the scope of Emory's Student Outreach and Response Team (SORT) to more effectively respond to disease outbreaks and health emergencies.

In the process, Mettee forged an alliance with the CDC to allow SORT volunteers to assist with outbreak investigations into food-borne diseases, including the recent salmonella poona outbreak in North America. In collaboration with the American Red Cross, she organized a daylong training session on disaster response for RSPH students with nearly 100% participation on a Saturday morning.

Determined to empower others, Mettee also serves as a board member and volunteer with Mad Housers, which builds shelters for the homeless in Atlanta. 

"Shauna has volunteered with Mad Housers for the past six years," says Rollins Professor of Epidemiology Ruth Berkelman, who nominated Mettee. "Whether she's assisting with finances, generating publicity, or seeking out volunteers, she has always done what needs to be done."

A native of Colorado, Mettee enrolled in the RSPH to pursue her interests in global health and holistic clinical practice. Both skill sets proved invaluable last summer when she worked in rural Bangladesh to improve treatment of women with obstetric emergencies. 

Several years earlier, while completing a CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory Fellowship, Mettee discovered her calling. "I was going on outbreak investigations, including a cholera outbreak in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, with Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers," she says. "It's been a dream of mine to join them."

After she graduates in May, Mettee will join the U.S. Public Health Service as an EIS officer in July. —Patrick Adams, 09MPH


megan ivankovichAdvocating for women's health

Megan Ivankovich, 09MPH, has been making the world safer for women for years. She is one of seven women, and the only student, to be named a 2009 Unsung Heroine by the Center for Women at Emory.

As co-president of the Emory Reproductive Health Association (ERHA), Ivankovich has pursued a passion she developed early on. "I was pro-choice before I understood what abortion was," she says.

But there was a moment in college when those views began to crystallize and shape her outlook on life. "I was in an ‘Intro to Feminism' course and a bunch of us decided to travel to Washington to protest President Bush's re-instatement of the Global Gag Rule," she recalls. Now rescinded, the rule prohibited nongovernmental organizations that receive federal funding from promoting or performing abortions as a means of family planning.

That first protest sparked Ivankovich's passion for social justice.Later, while serving with the Peace Corps in Mozambique, Ivankovich realized her knowledge of sexual and reproductive health issues could help address urgent needs in communities around the world. "I witnessed the consequences of a severe lack of sexual responsibility there, and that moved me to embrace the issue as a lifelong career.

For her global field experience last summer, Ivankovich worked on a pair of programs sponsored by CARE International in Cambodia. For one, she assessed a new community funding system to provide poor women with access to funds for transportation and health care for an obstetrical emergency or the severe illness of a child. "She came back from that experience deeply moved," says Lauren Hill, 09MPH, co-president of ERHA. "She had this sense of urgency to do whatever she could for reproductive health worldwide, and she was determined to make a career out of it."

Ivankovich doesn't yet know where she will work after graduation in May. But her long-term goal is clear: improving the sexual and reproductive health of women to help them survive. —Patrick Adams, 09MPH


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