Overcoming All Odds to Achieve a Dream

Lourdes CalawayLourdes Calaway of Batesville has never been a stranger to hard work or helping those in need. She just never expected to have so much to be thankful for.

Born in Peru as Lourdes Zamata — Calaway and her three older brothers lived in Lima where their parents owned and operated a small restaurant. Times were difficult and help was required by everyone to keep the business going.

“Even as children, my brothers and I always worked,” Calaway said, noting how they began at a very young age. “We would help my parents with the restaurant, and I loved it. It allowed me to be around people and help people.”

The concept of helping others was one that Calaway held to tightly and carried with her throughout life. When it came time to make a decision about her future after high school, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do at first — she had always worked hard and enjoyed dedicating her time to helping others. Nursing seemed to be the career that would allow her to do both.

In Peru, nursing requires a four-year college degree, and getting into college as well as paying for it, was going to be a challenge. When Calaway told her father about her plans he was supportive, but unable to help financially.

“He looked at me and said, ‘I’m so sorry; I cannot afford it (college). You have to get a better job and make more money,’” said Calaway. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, Poppa, I will work.’ And I did.”

Calaway completed a series of tests that gained her entry into Ricardo Palma University in Lima. She began working as a waitress in a larger restaurant in order to support the cost. Although she made enough money to pay for college, but her schedule was very demanding. She woke up at 6 a.m. and attended school until 2 in the afternoon. At 6 p.m., she went to work, where she stayed until 11 at night. Long commutes were used on the public bus between college, work and home for studying and completing assignments.

“I had no time to be with my friends, but I knew I had to continue working for what I wanted,” said Calaway.

After three years, it was time to move on to the second part of her studies — interning. Knowing she couldn’t continue her studies, work and be a hospital intern, she had no choice but to quit her job. In Peru, employers promise severance pay to motivate employees to be good workers. Employers are required to pay severance if employees quit the job through no fault of their own. Calaway planned to pay off her college expenses with her severance pay; however, her employer refused to pay it.

“I’ve found that some people think that being educated or wealthy gives them power, but it doesn’t matter how much education or money you have — if you don’t have respect for other people, you have nothing,” Calaway said.

Calaway discovered she wasn’t the only employee who had been denied severance pay; many of her friends who worked for the restaurant had as well. She consulted Peru’s Labor Ministry and, together, they worked to find a good solution to the situation. They took the restaurant owner to court and, not only did Calaway get the money she was entitled to, but so did the others who had not received it. As a result, workers now get benefits as well.

“I try to fight for what is right, and what is fair. I was so happy to be able to do this for my friends and myself,” she said.

Winning that case gave her the money she needed to finish school and graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing.

Afterwards, Calaway applied for a job at Maison de Sante, a private hospital in Peru. She was hired as an obstetrics nurse, caring for patients before, during and after pregnancy.

Not only did she help mothers at the bedside, she became an operating room nurse, assisting physicians with cesarean sections. Due to the high rate of stillbirths at the time in Peru, she also comforted mothers who had lost their children, a job she said was “extremely difficult.”

“I would get emotional with the mothers each time,” she said. “The reward would be when mothers would come to me personally to tell me they were pregnant again and they would thank me for being there for them during their difficult time.”

Her job was challenging, but Calaway knew that helping patients was her calling. Little did she know, thousands of miles away something was taking place that would lead her life in a different direction.

Robert Calaway an avid traveler and owner of Calaway Construction in Batesville, was at a dentist appointment in Melbourne when he began talking about his love for travel. His dentist recommended that he visit Peru because of its beauty and nice people. So, Robert took his advice and planned a trip to Lima. It was there he met Lourdes. They fell in love and, in 2008, they married. Nine months later, she left Peru and moved to Arkansas.

“Robert was a great support while I tried to adjust to my life in America. It was all new to me,” Calaway said.

In Peru, the most common language is Spanish. Calaway knew some basic English words, but not many. The language barrier and the additional education required by the United States prevented her from getting her license to practice nursing in America, but she was no stranger to working for what she wanted. So, in 2010 she decided to apply for a job at White River Medical Center.

“I wanted to do anything I could at the hospital because I loved being around patients. I just applied for whatever I could do,” said Calaway.

She applied for a housekeeping position in WRMC’s surgical services department that involved cleaning rooms after surgery, stocking operating rooms with supplies, performing inventory and transporting patients.

Director of surgical services Nora Osborne was going through applications for the position when she came to Calaway’s application. “Her name just stuck out to me,” said Osborne. “She spoke Spanish fluidly, and I thought she would be a great comfort to our Spanish-speaking patients.”

With the help of Robert, Osborne interviewed Calaway and immediately knew she wanted to hire her. “She was willing to do anything to be with patients. I could tell she had a good spirit, and she was so compassionate,” said Osborne.

Over time, Calaway discussed her life in Peru with Osborne. She spoke about her journey through school, her internship and her job as a nurse helping with c-sections in the OR. “I knew she had so much more to offer,” said Osborne.

Osborne discussed Calaway’s situation with WRMC General Surgeons Drs. Jay Jeffrey and John Lambert as well as OB/GYN Dr. Keith Harville who are all fluent in Spanish. They, along with Osborne, provided

Calaway with surgical technician training. A surgical technician assists in preparing the OR for surgical procedures, preparing patients for surgery and assisting physicians throughout the surgery.

OR staff generally uses technology to communicate with patients who don’t speak English. “Having surgery makes most people anxious. Communicating with patients in their own language, one-on-one puts their worries at ease,” said Osborne. “I’ve seen patients go from nervous and upset to calm and relieved after talking to Lourdes. They trust her.”

In order to communicate with co-workers as well as patients who speak English, Calaway has been taking English-as-a-second language classes through the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project. She now effectively communicates with English- and Spanish-speaking patients. She also serves as an interpreter at WRMC.

“The tutors, Nicole Stroud and Sarah Jones, at the literacy project have been wonderful with helping me improve my English,” she said. “I appreciate them so much.”

A lot has happened for Calaway since her time in Peru. This year, she became an American citizen, an achievement of which she is very proud. But perhaps her proudest accomplishment is one that took place 11 months ago with the birth of her son, Constantine Cole Calaway. “My husband, Robert, and I are blessed to be the parents of our precious son, Constantine.”

It may not have been an easy road for Calaway, but her perseverance got her through her obstacles, which led to her happy ever after and a whole lot to be thankful for.

“I’m grateful to God for all of my family members, friends (especially my angels — my group girls), co-workers, and even strangers along the way who saw something in me. I love them all,” said Calaway. “I am so blessed and so thankful for everything that has happened in my life that has brought me here.”

And to those who may be fighting a battle in life, Calaway’s advice is: “Do not give up when things get tough; you never know where life will take you next. Each day brings new blessings.”