A Haitian mother pushed her little girl into Julie Bowen’s arms as she was leaving her 10-day stint as a volunteer in a Haiti hospital. The mother asked through a translator that Bowen take 3-year-old Sophie home with her, believing Sophie could have a better life in the United States because of the conditions after the devastating Haiti earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people in January.
“She, her mother and her grandmother live in a tent,” Bowen said. “I believe her father was killed in the earthquake.”
Sophie came to the Haiti hospital to have surgery on her club feet. Bowen, a pediatric nurse supervisor for Community Regional Medical Center who’s passionate about caring for children, formed a bond with Sophie while volunteering.
“Before surgery I was taking care of her, playing with her,” Bowen said. “She was a very happy, loving, beautiful child. She would come running up to me and wrap her arms around my knees.”
Bowen told Sophie’s mother she could tell she loved her and “that love would help her get through the tough times.”
“[Bowen] told me she had tears in her eyes and pressed money into Sophie’s mothers hands to help support her and her daughter,” said registered nurse Lynn Emas, director for women and children's services at Community Regional.
Bowen said finding supplies in the Haiti hospital was like going on an “Easter egg hunt” and conditions in the hospital were hot, humid and bug infested. She oversaw the pre-op room with eight cots, intensive care unit post-op with eight cots and hallway with four to six cots.
“Clean, but not Community Regional standards clean,” Bowen said. “Sharps, bio-hazardous waste and trash all went to the same place. It was me and another nurse who was Haitian, who usually spoke Creole, and we did have a couple of translators.”
As a pediatric nurse, Bowen has worked with children for more than 19 years and has been with Community for more than five. Her mother and two sisters also are nurses. While most people use their vacation time to rest and travel, Bowen uses hers to take care of children here in the Valley and now around the world. Haiti was the first stamp in her passport.
“It was rough before the earthquake,” Bowen said. “The people of Haiti are resilient, but were so grateful that we came to their country.”
Some of the notes to Bowen from Haiti said: “Thank you for your compassion and love,” and, “I am sorry I have nothing to give you.”
“She advocates for those little ones who do not have a voice for themselves,” Emas said.
Emas and her colleagues at Community Regional nominated Bowen for the First 5 Fresno County “Hands-On” Hero award and she was selected out of seven other Valley health care nominees.
“Julie's nomination was very compelling and her constant dedication to young children is a great benefit to our community,” said Elizabeth Campos, First 5 communications specialist.
Besides working in pediatrics at Community Regional and dedicating her time to help children in third-world countries, Bowen has another passion called Camp Sunshine Dreams, a camp for children with cancer. She dedicates a week every August at Huntington Lake to serve as the camp nurse.
She still finds time to fundraise, organize events, wash sleeping bags and shop for supplies.
“I’ve always been passionate about kids and to be in a job that allows me to work with kids and make a difference in their lives is truly rewarding,” Bowen said. “I think I am more blessed by them than they are by me.”
To Bowen, the more children she can impact, the better.
“I don’t consider myself a hero, I just want to look back on my life years from now and know that I mattered to people both at a world-class hospital and in a third-world country.”
This story was reported by Rebecca Wass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.