Cara (Garvey) Coleman (’95, swimming) has been named the 2019 recipient of the Edward “Moose” Krause Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor given by the Monogram Club. The award is annually bestowed on a Monogram Club member who has achieved notoriety in the following areas:
• Exemplary performance in local, state or national government
• Outstanding dedication to the spirit and ideals of Notre Dame
• Demonstrated responsibility to and concern for their respective communities
• Extraordinary commitment and involvement with youth
Coleman is a dedicated advocate for families and the vital role they play in the health care needs of children with disabilities. She has vast knowledge of this topic because of the experiences she and her family went through with her daughter Justice Hope. Justice was born in 2006 with agenesis corpus callosum and other medical issues, which prevented her from walking or talking and required extensive in-home medical care. Justice passed away in the spring of 2017 at the age of 11. During those 11 years, Coleman saw firsthand the essential care-giving responsibilities that is needed from families with disabled children. It was the challenge and extent of those responsibilities that caused Coleman to step back from practicing law and find different uses for her skills in advocacy for Justice’s individual level care and in systems level work. Not only did Coleman and her husband, Jason, develop their own repertoire of skills as direct caregivers for the medical needs of Justice, but she also developed new passions and voices as a health care professional.
“Throughout our journey, I have found that the skills I was taught and honed as a student-athlete at Notre Dame have been absolutely critical and foundational in my understanding of partnership and how to function as a true team member,” says Coleman. “While ‘team’ is often thrown around as an adjective to how medical care is provided or how special education plans are developed and implemented, many do not understand that being a teammate sometimes requires leadership but always requires equality, value, love and respect of one another and humility. Working to promote meaningful and authentic family-professional partnership in the lives of children and youth with special health care needs is the embodiment of one of the greatest gifts I received from my Notre Dame .”
Justice’s family made sure she had a full life, which included attending school, riding horses, listening to music and spending time with her three siblings, Gibraltar, Kezziah and Titus, and friends. Instead of focusing on what her daughter was unable to do, Coleman emphasized everything Justice could do. That mindset inspired Coleman to author the book “I am Justice, Hear Me Roar”, which is based on her daughter’s life, in 2010. Coleman and Justice frequently visited schools around their home in Northern Virginia to showcase the book and highlight everything that Justice, and other children with disabilities, are able to accomplish and how their peers can relate to them.
In 2012, when Justice became very sick and was hospitalized for an extensive period of time, the book was introduced to some of her physicians at the INOVA regional campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Medical School. That led Coleman and Justice into teaching medical students and residents about “people first” language, family-centered care, family/professional partnership and coordination of care. Coleman received a faculty appointment at the Department of Pediatrics in 2013, and expanded her teaching duties by co-creating a fourth year Medical Home elective and becoming co-director of the Physician, Patient and Society course. In 2018, Coleman, Justice and their physician partner, Alicia Freedy, MD, were jointly awarded the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care Partnership Award for their medical education work.
In 2018, the Coleman family established the Justice Hope Bluebird Award for Humanism in Medicine at the VCU School of Medicine INOVA Campus. It is awarded to a compassionate medical student who values family-centered care and sees the person, not the diagnosis.
“It is quite a humbling and a powerful spiritual experience to have a child who at the age of 11 inspired so many, and who even in death continues to impact people,” says Coleman. “One of our most beloved physicians for Justice said to me at her celebration of life that my work had just begun. Although I miss Justice terribly, I am so blessed to have her guiding my work daily. Her voice continues to grow through the opportunities I have with advocacy such that recently people who never met Justice in person feel as if they now have come to know her and feel her presence in our shared work.”
In addition to her teaching role, Coleman works as a program manager with Family Voices, a national grassroots network organization of families and friends of children and youth with special health care needs and disabilities. She also is a family-professional partnership specialist with the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care (IPFCC). Coleman’s projects with IPFCC have focused on strengthening diverse family-professional partnerships in health research and medical education. In her role at Family Voices, Coleman works on a variety of projects, including lead for family-professional partnership on the Collaboration for Improvement and Innovation Network to Advance the Care of Children with Medical Complexity and the Family Voices liaison to the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities.
Coleman recently was recognized by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources Services Administration as a “true leader in the field of care for children and youth with special health care needs”. She is increasingly sought after for participation in national systems level initiatives in care coordination, home health care, research and other topics. Coleman is on the board of directors for the National Institute of Child Health Quality and is completing her four-year gubernatorial appointment to the Virginia Board for Medical Assistance Services. In the past, Coleman has worked as an adult health specialist, a case manager for homeless pregnant women, a counselor in a shelter for battered women, a law clerk for a judge, immigration subject matter consultant and an attorney serving low-income immigrants.
“Cara Coleman represents the highest aspirations of the Monogram Club and Notre Dame Athletics,” says Monogram Club President Don Casey (’82, ’83, swimming). “She is someone that has made it her mission to help others and has made a profound difference in people’s lives. We are pleased to be able to recognize her with our highest honor, the Moose Krause Award.”
Originally from Vienna, Virginia, Coleman competed in the backstroke and earned four Monograms with the Notre Dame swimming & diving team. During her freshman season, Coleman was on the team bus when it crashed on the Indiana Toll Road, tragically claiming the lives of fellow freshmen Meghan Beeler and Colleen Hipp. As a senior, Coleman served as a team captain and received the program’s Most Honorable award, which is presented to the swimmer or diver who best represented the Notre Dame image as a supportive, inspiring and enthusiastic team member.
“Justice gave me so many gifts and one of my favorites to highlight is that she helped reform my type A personality,” says Coleman. “Having a child with a disability teaches you about being flexible and making accommodations, whether they were in the plans or not. My career path has always been driven by passion and the same is true with my shift from the practice of immigration law to health care advocacy. Justice taught me, just as the bus accident did decades before, that life is all about pivoting and shifting, and finding your joy and passion in that.”
After graduating from Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters with a degree in sociology, Coleman earned a master’s degree in public health from Tulane University and a law degree from Temple University.
“There are so many ways that my Notre Dame experience impacted my life, my career and how we live our life as a family,” says Coleman. “I often turn to memories made under the Dome to smile and for guidance. It was at Notre Dame that I explored and deepened my faith, and learned to foster my servant’s heart through lessons such as: ‘not running from but learning to pick up and carry your cross’ that Notre Dame sports psychologist Mickey Franco encouraged me to embrace as he helped me work to make sense of the bus accident or ‘WIN- What’s Important Now’ one of Tim Welsh’s favorite sayings to help you focus, take a breath and move forward.”
Past recipients of the Moose Krause Distinguished Service Award include Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. (’39, honorary), Ara Parseghian (honorary), Rev. Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C. (’63, ’67, ’69, basketball), Ruth Riley (’01, ’16, basketball) and Justice Alan Page (’67, football).
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