Fiona Byrne, Vermont, would never have described herself as “touchy-feely.” However, her earliest passions have led her to a career in medicine, allowing her to have an impact on women on a global scale. Through courage and a desire to better the world, Fiona empowers and inspires through her unselfish service to women.
Fiona always knew that health care was an area she would be drawn to. Upon entering the University of Vermont, she embarked as a nursing major. But soon, other areas of health and medicine would become prominent not just in her field of study, but her co-curricular involvements.
“As an undergrad, Tri Delta helped in teaching me so much about the challenges women face both here, at home, and abroad in developing nations. My collegiate experiences are part of the reason I became a nurse and why I am invested in supporting women’s health and human rights,” she said. “Through our chapter service projects, I gained exposure to women’s health organizations, which broadened my understanding of what it means to be a feminist and how to be impactful in the world.”
Fiona became increasingly aware of women’s health around the world. She closely followed the bombing tragedies in Aleppo, a city in Syria, and felt disappointed by the lack of global outrage. Hospitals and health care providers were specific targets of bombings. The destruction of the last standing pediatric hospital ignited Fiona’s courage to make a difference in the world and for women.
She then began her journey to volunteer for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a medical relief organization that works on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and neighboring countries.
Fluent in English and French, Fiona was unsure if she would be needed since she did not speak Arabic. She applied and was denied three times. She knew the language barrier would be difficult, but the situations were becoming much more critical.
Finally, in 2018, SAMS found a place for Fiona in Lebanon, where many speak French. She was chosen to be a part of a medical mission providing OB/GYN and women’s health care to the Beqaa Valley on the Lebanese-Syrian border.
It involved well-woman checks, pre- and post-natal checks for refugee women and general women’s health needs. Because of her extensive surgical training, Fiona was able to provide back up to the general and OB/GYN surgeons, spending 16 hours a day in an operating room.
Fiona’s operating room situation at the hospital was very different from her experience in the U.S. There was no housekeeping staff, no techs for assistance and a general lack of equipment. So, in addition to her nursing and surgical duties, Fiona found herself mopping floors, autoclaving her instruments and providing pre-op patients care.
In February 2019, Fiona returned to Syria on a second mission for SAMS and hopes to continue her work with SAMS in the future. As a former advisor for Eta Chapter at Vermont, the chapter has supported her cause.
Chapter members helped provide supplies to build “dignity kits,” which Fiona helped distribute to women in the refugee settlements. The kits contained undergarments, menstrual pads, hand sanitizer, soap, and deodorant to keep women and girls healthy, restore dignity, and maintain mobility, while meeting basic human needs.
“I am proud to be part of an organization that inspires members to find their passion and then pursue it, from the board room to the operating room,” she said. “Thank you, Tri Delta, for setting our members up to be brave and bold – for teaching us to be steadfast in our dedication to showing kindness and love to others.”
This story appeared in the Winter/Spring issue of The Trident. Read the full issue here.