Abby Heck: Doing Our Part


Abby Heck is a junior on the women’s golf team, hailing from Memphis, Tenn. 

The spring season was set to be an exciting one for Notre Dame Women’s Golf. We were chosen as a host site for NCAA Regionals, which was a big deal. We don’t host a tournament at Notre Dame like our men’s team, so nobody on our current roster has ever played an event at the Warren Golf Course. That was our goal: to play an NCAA Regional here in South Bend and to enjoy the home-course advantage. We had a lot of potential, and we were really looking forward to making it to regionals and possibly even advancing to nationals. 

This year brought many changes as three amazing freshmen joined our team. In the fall, every single one of us shot our NCAA career-best round. Even though the season was cut short, we had a great year together. Our coaches were so supportive of all of us, and we got along really well.

To kick off our spring season, we took two training trips to Florida, where we stayed with Notre Dame alum Jimmy Dunne. Our first event was in Arizona, and we had one of our best tournaments of the year. Freshman Lauren Beaudreau even broke the program record for best individual tournament score and placed fifth overall. 

Unfortunately, that was the only tournament we got to finish. 


Making the Most

We spent most of Spring Break in Mesa, Arizona, getting ready for the Clover Cup, the tournament we host annually. During the official practice round on Thursday, conferences started canceling or postponing their seasons. The affected teams were required immediately to drop out and return home. 

By the back nine, I think we all knew what was coming. The ACC was in the middle of a conference call. We didn’t quite know that the whole season would be canceled, but I think each one of us suddenly realized that it might be senior Mia Ayer’s last round of college golf. 

We still prepared as if there’d be a tournament. With all six of us playing in the same group, though, we made it fun. We tried to put aside our anxiety about what was coming in order to make the most of our time playing together. 

We were on the tee box of the last hole, and other groups started driving past us in golf carts. “You have to get off the course, now.” We didn’t play the last hole.

We had a team meeting at the clubhouse, and that’s when we were told that the ACC had suspended the season and that we needed to go home. My mom and my younger sister were in Arizona watching me; I never anticipated that I’d be going back to Memphis with them. That afternoon, we learned that the NCAA canceled Spring championships, which was really a shock. At that time, we still didn’t realize just how bad this pandemic would become. 


Do My Part

Now, I’m back home in Tennessee with my parents and two sisters. We’re a golfing family, and it’s weird for all of us to be home for this extended time. Even in the summers, I’m usually on campus for summer school, or last year, I was studying in Spain. 

On a typical day, I have my online classes, which begin at 7:20 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Once I’m done with class, I go to West Cancer Center, where I help screen patients for the coronavirus. I spend about twenty hours per week volunteering.

I’m a pre-med student interested in oncology. A doctor who I shadowed over Christmas break reached out to me saying they needed help with volunteers for, I think, two reasons. First, hospitals and clinics, and really all healthcare facilities, are understaffed to deal with such a pandemic. We have not faced such a large outbreak since the Spanish Flu nearly a hundred years ago. Second, most volunteers are older and at-risk; they especially need to stay home. 

I’m right there in the doorway when people walk into the clinic. I ask about travel histories and symptoms. We don’t turn anyone away, but if someone looks like they could be displaying symptoms of the virus, they’re given a mask and seen separately. We have isolation rooms that are cleaned and kept empty for an hour between patients. 

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These practices are aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. We’re trying to protect everyone there, especially the patients with cancer whose immune systems are already compromised.

It’s been really interesting to be here day after day. I’ve shadowed a lot of doctors in the past and in different fields, but I don’t usually have a chance to interact with patients or get to know them at all. Volunteering every day now, I see a lot of the same people, and I’ve had a lot of really meaningful conversations. 

I’ve seen women walk out after finishing their last breast cancer treatment. They’re so excited, and I’ve had fun celebrating with them. I’ve also seen patients who just received rather sad news about their prognosis. I’ve learned empathy, and that has been very moving.

Another great thing about this experience is that I’ve been able to use Spanish in a medical setting. When I was twelve, I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish after being paired with a girl from Columbia in a golf tournament. With the growing Hispanic population in the United States, I knew Spanish would be useful in everyday life. However, I have just recently come to realize how impactful it can be in a medical setting.

My dad is an orthopaedic oncologist, and he has made learning Spanish his passion. Several years ago, he began studying the language on an app. I would wake up for school, and he’d be sitting in his chair, drinking coffee and practicing Spanish. That iPad was always with him. I had to listen to his bad Spanish on long car rides and family vacations, and we all teased him about his new obsession. It wasn’t too long before I realized why learning Spanish was important to him. 

He started coming home, excited like a little kid, telling us stories about being able to have conversations with his Hispanic patients. Even when my dad’s Spanish was choppy and full of mistakes, his patients were touched by his effort. Spanish is just one of the many ways in which my dad forms meaningful relationships with his patients. With some, he may have a conversation about the Memphis Grizzlies. With others, he may ask about their hunting season. Whatever it is, my dad recognizes that, for a lot of patients, going to the doctor can be scary, especially patients with cancer at the oncology clinic. It’s a really uncertain time in their lives, and they want to be treated as a person, not a statistic. 

I’m really proud of how my dad forms relationships with his patients, and it’s something I want to emulate in my own career. I have continued to develop my understanding of Spanish language and culture. I even took a class entitled “Spanish for the Medical Profession” last spring, which taught me about the differences between the healthcare systems of the United States and Latin American countries. 

While volunteering, I have a lot of fun whenever Spanish-speaking patients arrive. I think they’re pleasantly surprised to hear me speak in their native language. The interaction often goes past the questions about travel and symptoms and turns into a more meaningful conversation.

I feel like I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. When I was five, my dad worked at St. Jude, and  I’d often go round with him to meet all the patients. I’ve been exposed to the medical system for such a long time, and it’s always been a dream of mine to be a part of it. Now, even though my contribution is small compared to that of most healthcare professionals, it’s rewarding to be on the frontlines of this pandemic and to help in the ways that I can. It makes me look forward to being able to do more in the future.

It’s tough right now not to be with my teammates playing golf. Most of our home courses are closed, so practice is sporadic. Staying mentally tough is key. We need to remain focused and continue to work hard through the end of the semester.

Our team knows that we’re all there for each other. We know that we’ll get through to the fall, and we’ll be on the course again before we know it. Even though this year was cut short, we know we have a lot of potential, and we’re excited for next season.

For right now, my advice to all is to stay home. Many models from healthcare professionals show the virus peaking around this week. Stay home if you can, and if you must go out, wear a mask. I feel like a lot of younger people have the mindset that since they’re not the at-risk population, it doesn’t matter. The problem is, however, even if you’re going to be fine, you might spread it to someone who won’t be. 

In the United States, people are forming better habits. It’s definitely an adjustment, but everyone can do the small things: stay at home and avoid contact with other people. We can all play our part in helping.


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