I’m the oldest of 5 kids. My brother Mike and I are 11 months apart, born in the same year. Pat and Jim were born a year and a half later. Maggie was 5 years later.
The 4 of us were born within 2 ½ years of each other. I was a tomboy. My mom tried to put me in a dress, but I just sat in the dirt and dug holes anyway. I loved playing sports. The challenge of learning a new skill and pushing myself was thrilling. That attitude gave me the grit to work hard, learn from my mistakes, work harder, and ultimately to become a physician.
I lived at 4169 California Street and went to Cathedral for grades 1-3. Then we moved to Dundee and I attended St. Margaret Mary's for grades 4-8. My parents sent me to Marian High School. I was painfully shy. It was there that I became more confident and comfortable with myself. But it took every minute of all 4 years.
My dad was mayor at the time. As a teen, I really felt (and hated) the ups and downs of political life. He worked hard to do what seemed right for the city. He used his creativity, his ability to connect, his sense of humor to make a difference. He would get praised and criticized but he still saw no one as an “enemy." It hurt my feelings. But he knew he represented everyone, even the haters. He was, and still is, a class act and a role model.
I bounced around colleges. During my first semester at UNL, my dad had a heart attack. I was 18 and it scared me. I moved back, attended Creighton, went back to UNL in the fall, and then enrolled at UNO. I changed my major from Physical Therapy to Journalism to Undecided to Business. I worked as a teller to pay my way through school. I was interested in my job, so got the Business degree with a major in Finance. I worked as an auditor at First National Bank. I liked the analysis, the problem-solving. But I always felt the pull of the health professions. I started volunteering at UNMC in the ER. I’d never spent time in a hospital or understood its inner workings. As a volunteer running urine specimens to the lab, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to see how things ran, who did what, and why things happened! It fired me up!
Mike and I were newly married. I talked to him and my family about the energy I felt. He always sees my potential better than I do. He was completely supportive. I wavered as to whether I should pursue something in the medical field. My wise mother asked me, “So, how long will it take you?” Well, I needed to take science classes, get accepted, then go for 4 years there. I’ll be 31 years old by the time I finish school; then I have residency. “Ok… and.... How old are you going to be in 7 years anyway?” She got me there.
So I left my auditing job, became a unit secretary in the adult ICU at UNMC, and took prerequisites. I graduated with my medical degree from UNMC and chose OB-GYN as a specialty. I had a new baby. After 4 years in residency in Maine and a second daughter, we moved back to the area, landing in St. Joseph, Missouri.
I practiced there for 15 years, very busy. As my kids got older, I decided to move back to the Omaha area to be closer to the rest of our families. That was about 4 years ago. I landed a job I love with Methodist. And I was able to spend a lot more time especially with my parents.
Then my family, close friends, and I started to notice mom’s memory loss. Over time, she was diagnosed with vascular dementia. This was painful for a lot of reasons.
First, she was in great physical health. On her 75th birthday, we had a huge party at my parents’ place. Fun was had by all!. I challenged her and others to a “planking” contest. Mom was chill and relaxed as the rest of us were whining and shaking. A minute goes by… then 2 minutes…. Then 3 minutes and mom is still going strong! The rest of us dropped like flies.
Second, most of the women in her family had strokes in their 70s due to vascular disease and hemorrhage. It was not a matter of “if” she has one, but a matter of “when”.
Third, she still had so much to do, so much to give. She prided herself on encouraging women to run for office. On several occasions, she chided me to consider it. She was a political mentor, and had the road map to be a successful office-holder. She “leaned in” before it had a name.
She had a massive stroke in late January last year a month after she turned 76.. She died 5 days later, on February 2, 2019, at my parents’ home.
The outpouring of support was overwhelming. The funeral felt small to me and surreal, even though apparently thousands of people came. It was over the next days, weeks, months that I truly felt what I lost and settled into the new normal without her. I think of her daily of course.
February 2, 2020, was the first anniversary of her death. Most of my family gathered at my house that afternoon to be with each other. And it happened to be the Super Bowl. Did I mention mom was a KC Chiefs fan?? And I’m nuts about them!. When the Chiefs won with 6 minutes to go, we know mom made it happen!
About a week later, I experienced the weirdest thing. I woke up suddenly, not remembering my dream, but remembering a feeling. I think it was mom, and I felt almost a physical hand on my back, telling me to do something. DO SOMETHING! The next morning I couldn't wrap my head around it. Then it hit me like a brick wall. Run for office. Dad was excited and proud! He told me Mom would be proud too.
This ride for Douglas County Board started in late February. I’m doing it to give back to my community. I have a unique background in both medicine and business. Who knew that would be so relevant right now? And I want to make my mom proud. I plan to follow in her footsteps with grit, advocacy, integrity, and compassion. She set an example to stand up for what’s right, even if it means standing alone. And I plan to.