Like most college athletes, the short season and sudden transition to online classes in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak came as a surprise to University of Notre Dame junior Abby Heck. She and her teammates on the university’s women’s golf team were just getting underway in the spring and looking forward to pursuing a home NCAA Regional berth when the scope of the pandemic brought Abby back home to Memphis, TN, and left her with a feeling that she could be doing something positive with her time.
Being back home with her family and having all this time on her hands was a new experience.
“We’re a golfing family,” she said, “and it’s weird for all of us to be home for this extended time. Even in the summers, I’m usually on campus for summer school, or last year, I was studying in Spain.”
Now, instead of training for golf tournaments, she’s found a new way to dedicate her time. Abby is a pre-med student interested in oncology. And when a doctor, who she shadowed over her winter break, asked if she would be interested in volunteering at the hospital, Abby was happy to help. Once she finishes with her online classes in the morning, she puts on some gloves and a mask and heads to the West Cancer Center and Research Institute to help screen patients for the coronavirus.
Especially now, hospitals need volunteers to ease the strain caused by the pandemic. The people who would ordinarily volunteer are older and higher risk, people who should stay home to lower their chances of catching the virus.
During her twenty or so hours a week when she volunteers, she’s getting the chance to form connections with the patients visiting the hospital.
“I’ve seen women walk out after finishing their last breast cancer treatment. They’re so excited, and I’ve had fun celebrating with them,” Abby said. “I’ve also seen patients who just received rather sad news about their prognosis. I’ve learned empathy and that has been very moving.”
Her selflessness comes from a lifelong passion for wanting to help people. She started learning Spanish to better connect with the Spanish-speaking patients so she could make them feel comfortable by taking their conversations beyond questions about travel and COVID-19 symptoms to something more significant.
“I feel like I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” she said. “Now, even though my contribution is small compared to that of most healthcare professionals, it’s rewarding to be on the frontlines of this pandemic and to help in the ways I can. It makes me look forward to being able to do more in the future.”
While Abby misses playing collegiate golf with her teammates and is excited to get back out on the course whenever the next season can begin, for now, this former member of LPGA*USGA Girls Golf and rising star in the medical field will continue doing her part to help.
You can read more about Abby in her own words on the University of Notre Dame’s website.