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Gabriela Retana - FEMAP Social Worker Cites Empathy as Greatest Tool for Service

Friday, March 16th, 2012


It’s a Wednesday evening, and Gabriela Retana is deftly orquestrating the appointments of 30 patients, not counting the walk-ins. The young patients and their families are at Hospital de la Familia to be seen by Dr. Jacob Heydemann, a Pediatric Orthopeadic Surgeon who volunteers from El Paso, Texas. Many of the patients have a follow up with Cynthia Fisher, the physical therapist or need to be fitted with a prosthetic through the help of one of the many prosthetic volunteers. Gaby, as she is known at FEMAP, knows the young patients, their families, their individual needs and medical history. Families call Gaby to book a visit with Dr. Heydemann and his team. Then, the day of the clinic, Gaby is with the volunteers until the last patient leaves to ensure that their needs are met, follow up appointments are made and questions answered.

But this is only one of her many duties as the head of the social work department for the FEMAP Medical Units which are comprised of Hospital de la Familia and Hospital Santa Maria –SADEC. She oversees six staff members and alongside her colleagues works with patients on a vast range of issues that require anything from moral support to a host of institutional interventions. Gaby is also known for mobilizing donations such as clothes, food, toys and supplies for the impoverished families that seek medical care at FEMAP.
Gaby was born in Cd. Juarez and studied Social Work at the Autonomous University of Cd. Juarez. She has been at FEMAP since 2000.

Q&A with Gaby Retana
What do you love most about your work?
“I make a difference in someone’s life every day. More than 2,000 people seek services at the FEMAP medical units, and I help families through their suffering and loss as well as through happy moments and reunions. I believe one must never lose their innocence. To gradually allow one’s self to become desensitized to any story, just because so many others find themselves in the same situation, is to lose a sense of humanity. The fact that one can empathize through emotions of sadness and anger, helps us intervene through moral, spiritual, or institutional methods.
Our patients trust us and believe in us. We receive many blessing from our patients because they are grateful for whatever we can do for them. Also, I work with a great team at the Hospitals and we always make sure we recognize the work we do, we make sure we say thank you and we make sure we are there when someone from the team needs an extra hand.”

Why did you choose Social Work as a career?
“I picked this career because there are vulnerable segments of the population, especially women who do not have a voice, who do not have a vote and are not taken into account. Through this career, I am able intervene and help.”

You started working at FEMAP in 2000. Why have you stayed?
“What I love about working at FEMAP is the actual hands-on participation; the help, support, and guidance we offer the many people who seek our services – mostly though, the trust that is placed in our abilities, giving us a great satisfaction and personal growth through communal development.”

Is there a specific story that has impacted you?
“During my time at Hospital de la Familia, I have seen so much…which story has impacted me more? I would say all of them. Because, if we stop being surprised, we will stop feeling sad, anger, we still stop laughing, crying, and asking why. What has been hardest for me has been when a lifeless child arrives to the hospital; especially those as a result of child abuse. My first question is why did this happen? How can this happen? Children depend on us as adults! They can’t express their thoughts, they don’t know how to interpret their surroundings. This is so hard for me.”

What have you learned in the past ten years?
“Working directly with people you learn about yourself and you also feed your soul. It is imperative that as human beings, we understand each other, put ourselves in each other shoes and understand and respect other perspectives. I think God put me on this path.”

Is there anything you’d like to add?
“I will forever be grateful to FEMAP for the services it extends to people and the opportunity it has given me to be a part of such a great family of community based institutions. It has taught me that we must never lose hope, but most importantly, we can make a difference!”