Long-time local pediatrician Dr. Sarah Woerner would love to attend the “Passion Into Action” women’s event this weekend at the River Highlands Ranch in Smartsville. Ironically, she’ll be in Nicaragua on a medical mission — one of the passionate interests that she has turned into action.
But she was happy to talk about her own commitment to causes related to children and community health and why such commitments are important.
“Working with children is so rewarding,” she said. “You can shape things that will have a huge impact on their lives — and the community — much later on.”
The two-day Passion into Action Experience event being staged by the See Jane Do organization has been designed to empower everyday women to be heroes in their own lives and to the community through their actions. Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) is a cosponsor of the event. At least several activist women associated with the hospital will be there.
Linda Aeschliman, RN, nurse navigator at the Sierra Nevada Women’s Imaging Center, will be at an information booth for her department. Kayle Martin, a two-time cancer survivor who is now involved in the hospital’s peer counseling program, will be a speaker on the program.
“My topic is ‘How Cancer Made Me a Cowgirl for Life,’” Martin said. “I think it’s very important for everyone to inspire others to live happier, healthier lives. Living by example is a huge thing for me, and it’s all based on the fact I had cancer. My life is about healthy diet, healthy mind, respect for our environment, and helping people kick-start their own lives into the lives they really want to be living.”
Several years ago, Aeschliman made a major change in her life to shape it into the life she wanted to lead. She stepped away from a 20-year career in social services to become an oncology nurse.
That interest came about partly through another passion — working with therapy dogs — and partly after witnessing her father-in-law’s cancer treatment.
“I became a witness to the journey, the healing process, and how I am someone who can provide resources to help,” she said. “I realized that we’re all connected, and what I get to do here allows me to express who I am. Being a navigator for patients going through cancer treatment allows me to develop relationships and provide continuity. To me it’s the essence of nursing.”
Aeschliman said she was inspired by her maternal grandmother, who died when Aeschliman was only 12 or 13 but left a lasting impression by what she did in her community. Now she continues to draw inspiration from the group of peer support volunteers she has organized for cancer patients.
“We meet monthly and I come away energized,” she said.
She also cites several fellow nurses, including Pat Donnelly (now retired) and Julie Ann Garrett, for their work in helping patient navigate through treatment.
“You can just go through the motions,” she said, “but if you’re following your passions it feels different. You lose yourself in it; you lose an awareness of time. Things seem to happen when you follow your passion.”
Since her encounter with breast cancer, Martin has found meaning by helping others, and by working through her website, www.cowgirlsandcollaredgreens.com, to advocate for a raw food, vegan diet and healthy lifestyle, all of which helped her own recovery.
Woerner has been part of many community efforts, but cited several as high among her priorities. She has been involved since it began with the KARE Crisis Nursery in Grass Valley, a project of the Soroptimist International of Grass Valley that offers temporary shelter for children while parents are assisted through crisis situations.
“You have to treat these children like gold,” she said. “Keep them safe and away from witnessing their family stress. The payoff is huge.”
She also serves on the board of the Kellermann Foundation, which supports a hospital, nursing school, and health care for the Batwa pygmies in Uganda. Woerner will be making her third trip to Uganda soon — another of her medical missions.
Working with Judi McKeehan, Woerner helped found the “Read Me a Story” program, which has distributed over 40,000 free books to children in the community to encourage reading.
Although she has reduced her working hours as a physician, activism can be wearing, she said. But it is in a way its own reward.
“Any person who is passionate gets renewed and exhausted at the same time,” she declared.
In a way, Woerner is living proof of her belief that giving children a secure childhood will pay off when they become adults.
“I grew up right here in Nevada City,” she said. “I had a great childhood.”
Now she’s paying that forward.
For more information about the “Passion Into Action” event, visit http://passionintoaction.tv.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.