Supporter Spotlight: Laurel Mueller — Patience, Perspective and Perserverence

Posted Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Laurel & Mom

Laurel with a photo of her mom at her 1953 graduation from Ohio State College of Nursing

Laurel had always been interested in medicine. It was inevitable: her father was a surgeon, her mother was a nurse. But she did not take the traditional path to become the doctor she is today. Her career in medicine did not start until she was 43, was a long, hard road involving a change in program mid-course and recovery from cancer and from a major accident.  Now as a physician, she has the opportunity to give back.  Most recently, her mother who was a nurse and Red Cross volunteer for 50 years passed away.  In thinking about how to honor her mother, she thought of Lyon-Martin.  Laurel identifies with our health center – both have struggled against adversity and risen up out of the ashes. It only made sense to her that she would honor her mother by donating to Lyon-Martin.

Although medicine was always of interest to her, when Laurel finished college, she decided to use her multi-lingual skills and business sense to earn her MBA from Wharton School of Business. She then worked on Wall Street in international finance for twelve years. It wasn’t until her brother tragically took his life at the age of 32, that Laurel, then 30, took a step back to think about how she could honor his memory and give back. She thought about it for about five years, discussing her desire and hesitation to go to medical school with friends who encouraged her to pursue it. Her friends suggested she volunteer in a medical setting to help her make her decision, and this is when she met Dawn. While volunteering at Community Health Project (now Callen-Lorde Community Health Center), a mutual friend introduced Laurel to Dawn, who was doing her residency at Montefiore Medical Center and seeing patients at a community health center in the Bronx.  Dawn took Laurel under her wing during her time there and helped inspire her to follow through with becoming a doctor. Laurel, at the age of 43, finally began her new career as a first year medical student. The prerequisite courses, application process and medical school itself were tough, but her friends pushed her through and people like Dawn inspired her to keep at it. After medical school, at age 47, Laurel almost got fired from her residency and left her program, but another mentor opened a door and two weeks later she was in a new residency program at a refugee health center in Utica NY. This health center, the only Medicaid clinic in town, took care of many refugees from the Bosnian war. Laurel thrived, working with translators and interpreters and learning about the customs of different countries. Having traveled in high school and college, worked in international finance and spoken five languages, Laurel was in her element.

She was 50 when she graduated from residency. While studying for her medical exams and interviewing for jobs, Laurel was diagnosed with cancer and was treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She was lucky and the cancer was treated without chemotherapy.  After completing treatment, Laurel moved to Arizona to work at Hopi Healthcare Center, away from the business of New York.  She had done a rotation on an Indian Reservation in medical school and loved it. In Sedona, on a weekend off, she fell 20 feet off a rock formation, crushed her ankle and wrist, and suffered a concussion. After calling 911 she was flown out via helicopter to Flagstaff Medical Center and was wheelchair-bound for four months. Still recovering from cancer and now in a wheelchair, Laurel went back to work a better doctor. She knew what it was like to be a patient, to be in pain, to have cancer, to be scared. Her friends helped her recover and Laurel continued her career, eventually adding professor to the list of her achievements.

Two years ago, Laurel decided to attend the Women in Medicine Conference in Napa.  She and Dawn ran into each other after more than 15 years.  Dawn looked at her and asked, “Well?” to which Laurel replied, “I did it.” They were, of course, referring to Laurel’s completing medical school and becoming a doctor. After the conference, Laurel visited San Francisco and Lyon-Martin where she noticed the reading materials in the waiting room. Dawn told her there was a study that showed that more up-to-date the reading materials in a waiting room, the better the patients do. Laurel began sending her New Yorker magazines to Lyon-Martin when she returned home to Arizona.

Laurel and Dawn kept in touch, and then this May, Laurel’s mother passed away. Her mother was a nurse and a Red Cross volunteer for 50 years. Laurel wanted to do something to honor her memory. Her mother was grassroots before grassroots was a thing. She immediately thought of Lyon-Martin. She called Dawn and asked, “What can I do to help you make a difference?” In talking with Dawn and our Board of Directors’ Vice Chair, Debbie Felix, Laurel decided to give a generous multi-year gift to Lyon-Martin in honor of the work her mother did to give back to her community and the work Dawn and Lyon-Martin do to serve our community.

Laurel too gives back to less fortunate communities. Next month she will be traveling to Burma for the third time with two Burmese friends to set up family medical clinics and provide care and help translate (she has added medical Burmese to her list of languages).

Laurel identifies with Lyon-Martin, both have struggled against adversity and risen up out of the ashes. Laurel found her way through a competitive career path later in life, conquered cancer and recovered from a severe accident. Lyon-Martin has withstood hard financial times and a changing healthcare landscape. When learning about our merger with HealthRIGHT 360, Laurel was happy to know that we would keep our own identity and be sustainable so that we can continue to serve our community.

She made it through her hard times and so have we, and she feels lucky, explaining, “I made it! Now there’s more work to do.” She has seen a lot in her life, learned a lot, and has been humbled by many things and offers these words of wisdom, “every day I try for progress, not perfection.” While she is inspired by the strides made in the LGBT community, she knows there is still so much to be done and is happy to support Lyon-Martin as she values our work.

We are thrilled to have Laurel’s support and thank her for taking the time to share her story.