ISU grad featured among nurses who are changing the world

October 19, 2010

Pam Froderman Blesch's "first eye-opener to another culture" came while a nursing student at Indiana State University. She spent a summer with a nurse mid-wife in Burundi.

"Some patients walked for two or three days and brought everybody in the family - livestock and everything - to be treated by a nurse," Blesch said. She added that she had great respect for the nurse as "someone who would basically give her life to help someone she didn't know."

Following in the footsteps of that nurse mid-wife, Blesch has been helping people around the world become a little healthier - and more spiritual - ever since that experience 35 summers ago.

A former surgical nurse at Terre Haute's Union Hospital, Blesch has been a nursing faculty member at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith since 1996. She is featured in the book "Giving through Teaching: How Nurse Educators are Changing the World," which tells the stories of 70 nursing educators and their students who give of their time, talents and skills to help others.

Since her journey to Burundi in 1975, Blesch has continued to heed the call to serve, traveling to such countries as Senegal, Gambia, Colombia, Ecuador and Ukraine. These days, she is the nurse who inspires a new generation of students. In 2009, she took nursing students from Fort Smith to Uganda.

"We had a wonderful opportunity to take students to another culture to work in a children's hospital," she said. Blesch hopes to take her students to Belize next year to work at community outreach clinics.

The new book describes Blesch as "a shining light who epitomizes caring that goes beyond the walls of a classroom or a hospital. Because she volunteers her time and provides health care in the global environment, she is often characterized - as much by her students as her colleagues - as a missionary. She also is often compared to Mother Teresa because of tireless giving of herself."

The label of missionary is one Blesch is proud to wear. In addition to addressing the medical needs of people she serves in other countries, her volunteer efforts give her the opportunity to "spread the gospel a little bit as well as impact health care." Her summer journeys are in conjunction with religious organizations, including the World Gospel Church and Southern Baptist Convention.

Whether in the surgery department of Union Hospital or in a make-shift clinic in a Third World country, nursing is often challenging, she said.

In Burundi, she had to organize medications donated from other countries. Many drug names were in French. Multiple languages, particularly in African countries, pose a major challenge in caring for patients.

But it has been in Senegal where Blesch has overcome the greatest challenge.

"I've been there twice," she said. "We went miles and miles out in the bush to take care of patients. There was a hole in the ground for a toilet and there was no running water. It was very primitive, and yet I saw joy on the people's faces. They were content with what they had and that impacted me greatly. When I came home, I started crying because I realized how blessed I was to be born in this country."

Blesch considers all of her international experiences rewarding but counts a visit to Ukraine a few years after the fall of communism as the most rewarding. There she taught English to "a diverse smattering of students" that included a former general, a nuclear physicist, physicians and a lawyer as well as university students.

"They were so hungry to learn English and come to America or someplace where they could better themselves. They were oppressed. They were unhappy people. They didn't smile," she said. "It was so refreshing to see their faces light up after just two weeks when they felt they could carry on limited conversation in English."

The book's authors say Blesch mirrors the same humanitarian spirit in her community that she displays internationally. She serves on the board of directors of the Terre Haute-based Froderman Foundation which promotes religious, educational, medical and/or charitable causes. She has also served on the board of Hannah House, a faith-based residence for pregnant and troubled young women in Fort Smith.

Blesch attended Gerstmeyer Technical High School in Terre Haute for its final two years of existence and was part of the first graduating class from Terre Haute North Vigo High School. She completed a bachelor's degree in nursing at Indiana State in 1976, holds a master's degree from Indiana University and is working on a Ph.D. from Capella University.

Her international experiences began as church-related mission trips and her overseas journeys continue to be church-sponsored. In the 1970s, she explained, college students didn't enjoy the level of study abroad opportunities that are available today.

Still, she recalled some "wonderful instructors" at Indiana State "who challenged me to go out and see what's in the world. They gave us opportunity to think broadly. We had a lot of exposure in the classroom to different cultures. The faculty at ISU brought that influence with them to help see there were places beyond Terre Haute and Indiana," she said.

Blesch urges today's college students, regardless of their major, to expand their own global horizons.

"Go and see what's going on around the world," she said. "It will impact you and impact what you're doing. Those experiences will stay with you forever."

Photos: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1054774611_LEorQ-L.jpg - Terre Haute native and Indiana State University nursing graduate Pam Froderman Blesch, a nursing faculty member at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, works in the operating room at Cure Children's Hospital in Mbale, Uganda. 

http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1054740634_ttpnG-L.jpg - Pam Froderman Blesch

http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1054774663_Dg3nP-L.jpg - Pam Froderman Blesch, a Terre haute native and Indiana State University nursing graduate, poses with operating room staff at Cure Hospital in Mbale, Uganda after conducting a program on instrument sterilization.       

Media contact and writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu