Converse Grad Braves the COVID-19 Frontlines in NYC: Meet Mallory Begley ’09

Converse Grad Braves the COVID-19 Frontlines in NYC: Meet Mallory Begley ’09

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Commitment to hard work and determination are qualities alumna Mallory Begley ‘09 (Nisbet Scholar) is no stranger to. Begley saw these characteristics personified in her father, a New York Firefighter, a first responder on 9/11 and someone she has always looked up to. “I’ve always admired my dad,” Begley says. “He’s a great dad and a man of great integrity as well as a really strong role model on how to accept responsibility and how to deal with things that are handed your way.”

The apple certainly did not fall far from the tree, as Begley has been busy post-Converse, blazing the trail in the remote jungle of Belize and now fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the Bronx⁠—literally.

As a native of New York, Begley never thought she would end up in Spartanburg, South Carolina for college. She discovered Converse in a book in the public library that emphasized the strength of its science department and was immediately intrigued. Begley also realized that an institution in NCAA’s Division II would provide her the opportunity to be a serious student, while also enjoying the chance to play on a competitive soccer team. In her senior year of high school, Begley’s family moved to South Carolina and she attended Converse the following year to study biochemistry and psychology, and play on the Valkyries Soccer team.

While at Converse, Begley grew as a student leader on campus. She was elected class president multiple times and performed research under Dr. Sheri Strickland, Associate Professor of Chemistry.

“Mallory was an independent, internally-motivated, enthusiastic research student. I see the same determination and commitment now as I did then.”

“Mallory was an independent, internally-motivated, enthusiastic research student. I see the same determination and commitment now as I did then,” says Dr. Strickland. As a sophomore, Begley participated in the Bonner Leader program. Despite her original motivation for being a Bonner Leader, Begley fell in love with philanthropy and giving back to her community at the Ellen Smith Hines Girls’ Home (now the Hope Center for Children). She was able to utilize the powerful leadership example she experienced on campus to empower the young girls she mentored.

Begley loved her experience so much that she spent additional hours beyond those required for the Bonner program. While at the girls’ home, she learned more about another program that would change her life: the Peace Corps. Begley’s site supervisor’s husband was a Peace Corps volunteer and as Begley learned more, she quietly entertained the idea of joining the Peace Corps.

Begley says she was seeking the “fulfillment I had with working locally in a volunteer capacity… but being able to see a different culture and seeing the world outside of what I had seen thus far.” As she considered joining the Peace Corps, she didn’t share her thoughts with many people–she wanted her decision to be her own. She recalls shocking those around her with the decision to move to a remote village in Belize with no electricity or running water.

“What I remember most about her is her sense of fun and her adventurous spirit… she was/is willing to travel anywhere–no matter how remote to assist others,” said Dr. Monica McCoy, Professor of Psychology. While in Belize, Begley was charged with building latrines. As she began to get to know her new community, she realized latrines were not what the community wanted; they were much more interested in healthcare and education opportunities. Begley led the charge in establishing a preschool in the first year and authored a successful grant to bring a doctor to support the village’s mobile health clinic. The opportunity for a trained medical professional was a big deal for this little village which previously lacked any basic medical education or care.

“Within five minutes of meeting her, you feel like you have been lifelong friends with her. She is such a well-rounded person, a person who is bright, determined, caring, interesting, and funny” describes Dr. Richard Keen, Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Psychology Department.

“Channeling the determination and persistence so many recognize her for, Begley felt as though she needed to jump in and help the city she loves so much.”

In the village, Begley used her easygoing personality to challenge the men and boys to games of soccer⁠—something the women in the village were impressed with. The women of the village were not permitted much independence and were inspired by Begley’s autonomy. She recalls “being myself showed them they have options” to show initiative and take over the group fitness courses and the Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) program started in the village.

The Peace Corps focuses on the sustainability of their programs, and thanks to Begley’s early facilitation, the programs she organized are still in existence today. Begley saw this firsthand when she returned to visit the village in September 2019.

After spending four birthdays in the remote village in Belize, Begley entertained an opportunity to combine the clinic work and public health aspects she loved by applying to Physician Assistant schools and took her talents to Duke University.

While at Duke, Begley indulged her adventurous side and studied in Sri Lanka for a surgery rotation. After graduation, Begley returned to New York to work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the operating room, and providing cardiothoracic consults. Despite being a cancer center, Sloan Kettering still saw an influx of COVID-19 patients which necessitated the creation of four COVID ICU inpatient wards. Begley recalled seeing a patient return to the hospital for a complication related to a previous procedure. The complication was unrelated to COVID-19, but the patient had been exposed and ultimately tested positive for COVID-19, thus resulting in Mallory being sent for testing.

At the time, loss of taste and smell was not a prevalent symptom of the virus, but after being tested in mid-March, Begley was diagnosed with COVID-19. Her bout with the virus was a mild one: persistent headaches, chest tightness, and feeling winded walking across her New York studio apartment.

While in isolation, Begley remembers feeling very alone in watching the news and reports of COVID-19 on TV. Channeling the determination and persistence so many recognize her for, Begley felt as though she needed to jump in and help the city she loves so much. Using her professional network, she reached out to peers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response to see if she could be of help after she was medically cleared herself.

Begley said that being in New York at this time is “a crazy thing to be a part of” as residents clap during the shift change of healthcare professionals. She firmly believes that caring for her patients is the profession she is dedicated to do, not anything beyond the realm of what is expected. Like her father, Begley works hard, helps her patients, and forges ahead without seeking accolades or celebration. New York has been the epicenter for the virus in the U.S., but Begley implores people to remain cautious and continue flattening the curve–that all the hard work could be for naught if there is a second wave.

We appreciate Begley’s service to her patients and healthcare during this national crisis–thank you, Mallory!

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