Some people travel to see the world. Allie, however – an occupational therapist and Mount Mary University graduate – travels to satisfy her desire to serve the greater good.
“There’s nothing I’m more passionate about,” says Allie, “than using the gifts I’ve been given to help my patients achieve the highest quality of life. And I’ve always been interested in seeing how therapy differs from one country to another. Mount Mary made the world really tangible and taught me about other cultures, but I knew nothing could benefit me more than experiencing them firsthand. With the education I received, I knew I had the tools to go out there and make a difference in the world.”
Shortly before finishing her master’s degree at Mount Mary, she booked her first trip out of country, to Ghana, Africa, where she spent a month working with kids in various orphanages. Just days before stepping on the plane, she found out she passed her certification exam, so she officially treated her first patient about 6,000 miles away from home.
“Traveling has made me such a better therapist,” says Allie. “It’s made me more creative, more in the moment. Mount Mary educated my mind, and traveling has educated my heart. It taught me how to experience other types of suffering and develop a stronger empathy, so I can treat my patients more fully and with greater compassion.”
After Ghana, Allie spent time in Thailand working with kids on the autism spectrum at an elephant-assisted therapy camp. A year later, she was in Peru treating patients in nursing homes, hospitals, and orphanages. And that’s where she had a profoundly moving experience with a child named Emmanuel.
“He was this sweet 10-year-old kid who had cerebral palsy and was wheelchair-bound. I fell in love with his little smile the first time I saw him. No one really paid a lot of attention to him because he couldn’t speak and he wasn’t mobile. So he was often left alone. He was so cognitively underdeveloped that communicating with him was hard. But one of the things he taught me was that even when there’s a language barrier or a cognitive deficit, therapy has the power to be something that doesn’t require words. We can say so much simply through body language and touch.”
It also taught her that sometimes the best kind of therapy comes in the form of companionship and love.
“I realize in our culture,” says Allie, “we’re under the impression that we’re not supposed to get emotionally involved with our patients. But I’ve found in my work that the moments when I open my heart are the moments when I help my patients in the best way. Mount Mary really emphasizes the inherent value of every person, and traveling has really reinforced that.”
Today, Allie is an occupational therapist in Chicago, Illinois. But the itch to travel has never left her, and she senses another volunteer trip to a foreign country may lie just around the corner. And no matter where in the world she may be, she always tries to do for her patients what Mount Mary did for her, which is support and care for them when they need it most.
“Mount Mary made me bold,” says Allie, “and I’m doing my best to make my patients bold.”
Here’s to the bold.