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I did not expect an award for doing what I loved!

by Helen Fosam

Anyone driven by passion never expects to receive a pat on the back or a cheer of approval, and certainly not an award. Instead, they are doing what they love and loving what they do, driven by a burning desire to make a difference. And so I was utterly surprised when I was nominated for an award for my work.

I am honored and humbled by the recognition I received on Saturday, March 18th, at the Rising Together Women’s History Month held at the Lehigh University Fairchild Martindale Library, receiving not one but two awards! The first was a Congressional Recognition Award, presented by Congresswoman Susan Wild, Pennsylvania’s Seventh Congressional District, United States Congress. The second award was a City Proclamation Living Positive Change Award by the Council of the City of Allentown and was presented by Judge Kunselman of the Pennsylvania Superior Court. 

All this has been made possible by the thousands who have supported my passion. To each of you, I humbly say Thank You.

In accepting my awards, I shared two notable events that drove and continue to drive the passion behind my work. 

The first was a reflection on my life journey. The opportunities made possible and doors opened, sometimes by strangers, have allowed me to have a stellar education, build a rewarding career, and now brings me here to tell my story. So, here I am, a medical writer, decades from where I began. As a medical writer, and in my moments of silence, I asked myself how I give back for all that I have received.

The second event was a medical emergency, a detached placenta 38 weeks into my pregnancy. The condition carries a 15% mortality rate, or potentially for the unborn baby, brain damage from lack of oxygen; for the mother, excessive bleeding, hemorrhage, stroke, or all of the above. Yet, we both came out of the emergency unscathed. Two key factors contributed to this; an excellent facility to handle such an emergency and stellar healthcare professionals at the top of their game. By that, I’m referring to continuing medical education, or CME, keeping their medical knowledge and skills current. 

I reflected on the positive outcome of my medical emergency and my desire to give back to the community that has given me so much. The MiLHO Initiative was my answer, an acronym for the Missing Link to Improved Health Outcomes. Why the name? The link between medical practice and optimal patient outcomes is CME. When CME is missing, patients receive suboptimal care, including preventable deaths.

The MiLHO Initiative addresses the need for increased opportunities for CME for healthcare professionals in Africa by curating online courses that address the challenges of access, cost, and time. MiLHO’s courses align with the saying, “The wearer knows where the shoe hurts.” We intentionally use writers, editors, and subject matter experts from Africa because they understand the unique challenges of healthcare practice in Africa and can adapt available resources, accommodate the nuances of cultural beliefs, and genetics’ influence on disease manifestation and its treatment. 

Healthcare professionals delivering care is only one half of the equation. Patients’ understanding of their health issues and partnering with their care provider in their disease management is the other half of the equation. That is why the MiLHO Initiative is developing patient information leaflets translated into languages spoken across Africa. 

Finally, the pool of talent that Africa produces must be harnessed. The MiLHO Initiative is doing its part by creating opportunities and training for writers, editors, reviewers, translators, and graphic designers, and a platform to showcase their work and talent. This is part of the MiLHO Initiative’s long-term capacity-building plan across Africa. 

Reflecting on my awards made me reflect on the important lessons I learned during my journey, and I would like to share them. First, creating something out of nothing takes time, commitment, and patience. There are no guarantees of success, with many frustrating moments and more downs than ups. And during those moments that I wanted to give up, despite doing what I love and loving what I’m doing, I reminded myself of my love for humanity and the core belief that my work – the MiLHO Initiative – can make a difference in people’s lives.