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Daredevil decade

Memorial University alumni effecting global change

By Rebekah Robbins and Heidi Wicks

A certain daredevilry is often required to make big changes.

That adventurous nature, and attendant positive results, can be found in spades in the Memorial alumni family – now at more than 95,000 strong.

From changing laws to saving lives, read on to catch up with two of our global change-making alums.

Gemma Hickey

LBGTQ2 rights activist Gemma Hickey (BA’03) is responsible for making Canada the first country in the Americas to include the letter X in the gender category on birth certificates and passports.

Gemma Hickey
Photo: David Howells

After changing Canada’s legal landscape, they have travelled the globe, meeting diplomats to give embassy talks and making worldwide headlines.

Mx. Hickey remembers the moment they knew they needed to fight for change.

“I sought conversion therapy when I was a teen and attempted suicide as a result,” they said.

Sitting in the passenger seat of their mother’s car, driving home from the hospital, Mx. Hickey vowed at that moment to devote the rest of their life to ensuring that LBGTQ2 youth would never feel the way they did.

Despite leading legislative change, they say their greatest achievement is that they’re not another statistic.

“While it’s true that we’ve made huge gains in terms of enhancing the rights of LBGTQ2 individuals, LBGTQ2 youth are still at a higher risk of suicide, homelessness and addiction,” said Mx. Hickey.

“In my experience, laws change more quickly than attitudes, and that’s why it’s so important to be visible.”

Mx. Hickey is the executive director of Artforce (formerly For the Love of Learning), an arts-based charity for at-risk youth. They founded the Pathways Foundation, a support network for survivors of sexual abuse. They were recognized with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and a Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Champion for their commitment to human rights protection in 2016.

Dr. Andrew Furey

Dr. Andrew Furey (B.Sc.’97, MD’01, M.Sc.’04, MPGRAD’05) founded Team Broken Earth in 2010 in response to the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti that struck 25 kilometres southwest of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Dr. Andrew Furey
Photo: Submitted

With Dr. Furey at the helm, the organization is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020. By administering acute care during and after the disaster, providing education to health- care professionals and building infrastructure, the organization’s impact has been immense.

Highlighting the importance of live media coverage during a disaster, Dr. Furey says he was driven to respond after seeing images in the news showing the devastation and impact to human lives. He says he realized many Haitians would suffer and die and further cripple a system that was already overburdened by other natural disasters.

Since 2010 Team Broken Earth conducted 50 medical missions to Haiti. Dr. Furey says that the lasting legacy of the project extends beyond providing acute care.

“The true solution lays in the education of [Haiti’s] own health-care professionals,” he said. “They have conducted orthopedic surgical courses using a collection of simulation and lecture models, and educate nurses, for example, by teaching the basic concepts of CPR and resuscitation.”

Dr. Andrew Furey shares a laugh with a friend in Haiti.
Photo: Submitted

Team Broken Earth created physical infrastructure in Port-au-Prince, as well. Thanks to funding provided by the team, a new building housing a medical-surgical unit has effectively doubled the capacity of the pre-existing hospital in terms of patient beds.

The organization also purchased essential medical equipment, such as an autoclave sterilizer for an operating room, surgical gowns and masks. Teams have travelled to Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Guatemala, in addition to Haiti.

Dr. Furey says he is thankful for the support of his community.

“The only reason this has worked is because of the groundswell of support from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, people believing in us and donating their time, talents and funds.”

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