Becky Lomax-Sumner: Medicine Woman

Becky Lomax-Sumner: Medicine Woman
April 22, 2013 Callie Daniels-Howell

By Andrew Morrow

Andrew Morrow is a Timmy student chapter alum from Indiana University and a former Virtu Project team leader. Since graduating last May 2012, he has has served as the Timmy Nonprofit Management Fellow and most recently, as the interim Programs Coordinator. He plans to pursue his medical degree at the IU School of Medicine in the fall, and will continue to be a part of the Timmy-Indianapolis staff through June. This blog shares one of his recent conversations with Timmy Global Health’s “Medicine Woman,” Becky Lomax-Sumner, who helps to manage our Medical Supply Warehouse.

Becky Lomax-Sumner, one of Timmy Global Health’s Medicine Women, is busy. She is in charge of half of Timmy’s medicine procurement and redistribution–a component of Timmy’s work that distributed approximately $2.6 million worth of medicines in 2012. Officially joining the team in 2001, Becky has been volunteering at Timmy since its infancy. While the scale of Timmy’s work has grown by leaps and bounds over the years—requiring more and more oversight—Becky’s commitment has been unwavering. As a small tribute to her dozen years with Timmy, I thought I’d catch up with her, ask her a few questions, and share her Timmy story with everyone just in time for National Volunteer Week (April 21-27, 2013).

Last week, Becky and I met up around lunchtime at Timmy’s headquarters near downtown Indianapolis and walked across the street to Subway—a frequent staff lunch spot.

Before taking my first bite, I thought I’d start with the basics: “So, where are you from?” I asked.

“Rockville,” she responded. Rockville, Indiana is a small town in Parke County on the western side of the state. It’s more widely known as the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World” and home to Turkey Run Sate Park. Anyone who knows Becky knows that she’s an avid bird watcher (or birder). She confirmed that her time growing up in Rockville influenced her love of the outdoors.

I moved onto questions about her high school experiences, and then college. She graduated from Purdue University with a degree in microbiology. Her love of science and work in labs led her to a master’s level program at the University of Chicago. From there, she moved onto hospital work in Indiana and Illinois, leading laboratory projects that primarily focused on infectious disease. For clinical microbiologists like Becky, there’s not much patient contact in the lab. For that reason, she told me, she enjoyed the extra interaction she was able to have with students and patients on Timmy’s medical trips.

Becky was quick to point out that her role with Timmy coincides perfectly with her personal and professional interests—She gets to work in health and medicine while also working alongside energetic college students and knowledgeable medical professionals. She emphasized that working with Timmy students has always been one of the best parts of her position.

Next question, a question I’ve always been personally curious about: “How’d you meet Dr. Chuck?” I asked.

“I called up Scott Keller (Timmy’s former Executive Director),” she explained. In early 2001, Becky wanted to volunteer with pediatric patients, and she had heard about the Timmy Foundation, which at the time was highly-focused on helping underserved children abroad. “Scott asked me, ‘Do you want to be in charge of our donated medicines?’” Clearly the answer was a resolute yes!

Becky was hired on the spot and was immediately tasked with the responsibility of sorting all of Timmy’s medicines—which were crammed into Dr. Chuck’s garage in Zionsville.

“I was sorting meds in Chuck’s garage one day, and a man who I didn’t recognize walked in,” Becky recalled. “The man asked who I was. And I told him I’m the woman in charge of all the medicines. Who are you?’”

“Dr. Chuck Dietzen,” he responded.

Even though Becky’s introduction to Timmy, its founder, and her new position were unorthodox to say the least, she has always been a dependable and “go-to” volunteer. Becky entered the Timmy community at a time when change was a constant. Nearly every year after she started, the organization relocated the medical warehouse. In addition to Chuck’s garage, Becky and Susie (Timmy’s other medicine woman) have worked out of a warehouse at Shadeland and 55th, Eagle Creek’s airport hanger, and a building on the west side of Indianapolis near I-465. Becky laughs when she recalls working out of one space in particular—the basement in Glendale Mall! Each of these “warehouses” were spaces donated by board members or connections that Dr. Chuck had made.

For Becky, the turning point in Timmy’s 16-year history was in 2005 when Timmy moved into its current building near downtown Indianapolis. Becky rolls her eyes whenever she remembers the chaos she used to endure on mornings when 5 or 6 medical teams would leave from the old buildings on the same day. The new building—and her new pharmacy—were much bigger, and would allow for organizational growth – which soon came.

“What was your most memorable Timmy trip?” I asked. Becky has traveled 19 times to Timmy’s partner organizations in Guatemala and Jamaica. She has a lot of stories to choose from.

Without hesitation though, she recalled a story from her second trip to Guatemala in 2008. The story involves a midwife named Doña Ana – who is both a community leader and a liaison between Timmy, its partner organization Pop-Wuj in Xela, and Timmy’s patient population in a rural Guatemalan community. At that time, Timmy had three infant incubators sitting in the medical warehouse that had been donated by St. Vincent Hospital. Becky decided to try to get one of those incubators to Guatemala for Doña Ana.

A close friend of Becky’s, Doug Moore, was gracious enough to donate a flight to Guatemala in his private jet so that she could travel with the incubator and a plane-full of other supplies for Doña Ana. Becky was all smiles as she explained how the situation had unfolded. Today, the incubator is still at Doña Ana’s clinic in Guatemala, and is one of just three incubators in the entire city of Xela. Becky keeps a picture of herself and Doña Ana hanging prominently over her desk in the basement pharmacy in Timmy’s warehouse—a constant reminder of that meaningful trip.

Our lunchtime chat flew by, and in no time at all came to a close. But as we moved back towards headquarters, Becky and I kept the conversation going.

She was anxious to talk about Susie, Timmy’s other Medicine Woman. Together, the two Medicine Women spend hundreds of hours each year organizing medicines in Timmy’s warehouse. They enjoy the camaraderie and the friendship, and have learned a great deal from each other over the years.

Back inside headquarters, Becky headed downstairs to her pharmacy where she is already making arrangements for the next round of Timmy medical trips in May. Despite having volunteered with Timmy for over 12 years, Becky tackles her projects in the medical warehouse with the spirit and energy of someone who’s volunteering with Timmy for the first time—and she says, “You think 12 years is a long time? I’m just getting started!”


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