At this point in life, approaching 40 years since graduation, high school feels like it was “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”! A few memories that stand out for me from that time include working on the yearbook Senior year with Mrs. Wilson and too many classmates to count, being the only girl in Mr. Kroon's Chemistry 2 class, singing in the choir, and any English class with Mr. Gary Meyer. The one weekend of Senior year that was both memorable and decisive for my future was the 1981 IHSA Girls’ basketball state championship. CCHS’s girls’ team traveled to play in Champaign-Urbana and won the state championship. I went with lots of other classmates to watch the games and cheer for our team. When I returned home from that weekend, there was an envelope waiting for me which set me on the journey I’ve been on ever since. It was my acceptance into Northwestern University’s Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME, otherwise known as “6-year meds”). I am forever grateful for Mr. Decker’s guidance through that application process.
I enrolled in the HPME program in the fall of 1981, which consisted of two years of undergraduate studies at Northwestern’s campus in Evanston, followed by the usual four years of medical school at their downtown Chicago campus. During this time I met my husband, Jim Melia, through an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship small group. We were married in 1986 while we were both in medical school. I graduated from Northwestern University Medical School in 1987 and began my three-year residency in Family Medicine at the old Cook County Hospital. After finishing my residency, I began working at Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood in August 1990. Jim graduated from Northwestern’s medical school in 1989, and after completing his Family Medicine residency at West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park, he joined me at LCHC in 1992. Our son David was born in 1993; Stephen was born in 1995. We moved into North Lawndale just a couple blocks from the clinic in 1996, where we’ve lived ever since in the 2-flat that we renovated into a single-family home. Our daughter, Hannah, was born in 1999. This past year in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I celebrated 30 years of working at Lawndale. The clinic first opened in September 1984, so it was young and small when I started working there six years later. By God's grace, it has grown over the years from a single site with seven medical providers when I started to its current seven medical sites with more than 125 medical providers, more than 500 total staff, and multiple extra services which aim to improve the health of the community beyond medical care. These include a fitness center, Senior Day Services program, Green Tomato Café, Immediate Care Center, a pharmacy, a mobile health team that serves multiple homeless shelters, and the Farm on Ogden in collaboration with the Chicago Botanic Garden.
One of the highlights of my 30 years at LCHC as a full-spectrum Family Physician is the long-term relationships that I have with families that I care for, including now having delivered several second-generation babies (delivering a baby for a woman who was herself a baby that I delivered). I also have the privilege of caring for many of our staff and had the honor of delivering two babies for another CCHS graduate who works with me, Rachel (Medema) Bykerk, class of 2003. Rachel has been a colleague at Lawndale as a Physician Assistant for ten years and has worked hard this past year as part of our COVID response team. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about how we operate but has not changed our commitment to “show and share the love of Jesus by promoting wellness and providing quality, affordable healthcare for Lawndale and the neighboring communities”. As of when I’m writing this in mid-April, we have administered over 25,000 COVID vaccine doses, and I would encourage everyone to get their shot as soon as they are able!
Although my years at CCHS were long ago, my time there laid the foundation for the work I’ve done in the years since. Without the guidance and encouragement from Mr. Decker, I might never have discovered and applied for the HPME program. My love of science was encouraged. My love of community service was nurtured. My faith was strengthened by many teachers and advisors as well as by my parents and my church. I’m grateful for the many friends and mentors who have been with me on this path, and God willing, hope to continue to serve at Lawndale for years to come.