On the Front Lines
COVID-19 has affected all of our lives, but alumna Helen Holmes Giambrone ’97 deals with it daily as a Disease Investigator for the Douglas County Health Department. In her role, Helen is responsible for contact investigations of individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus. Contact tracing is designed to halt transmission of an infectious pathogen and slow community spread. Helen has been preparing for this work since January and working nonstop since the first week of March. But Helen feels that "everything she does is helping people on a daily basis." Her commitment to others took shape at an early age through her Mercy education.
Although her parents said she could go anywhere for high school, Helen followed in the footsteps of older sister, Katie ’95, and enrolled at Mercy in 1993. Her younger sister, Betsy ’01, also went to Mercy. Helen had many friends who were going to enroll at Mercy, and she “wanted to experience the same close-knit friendships from grade school during high school." She was not disappointed.
At Mercy, Helen participated in Campus Ministry, Christian Life Community (CLC), and was also one of the first group of teens to volunteer at Children’s Hospital through the Teen Connection Program. She was also a member of Prom Court her senior year.
“One of my favorite teachers was Ms. Newville. Even though she taught a subject that was complex and challenging, she made learning really fun and relatable,” Helen said.
After graduation, Helen earned both leadership and writing scholarships to Rockhurst University in Kansas City and majored in history and psychology.
“I credit my Mercy education in developing my skills, especially in making my writing intentional and purposeful. I would never have received a scholarship without those talents,” she said.
Helen was very involved in college activities and was the president and secretary of her sorority, editor of the college newspaper, and participated in a service trip abroad.
“I feel my Jesuit education at Rockhurst was a natural extension to my Mercy education and furthered my belief that we need to be women and men for others," she said.
After graduating from Rockhurst, Helen joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. and worked at a domestic violence shelter as a youth advocate in Cleveland, Ohio.
"That experience was eye-opening. Children needed services and case management just as much as adults do but often their needs are not equally addressed,” she said.
Helen applied to be an Investigative Epidemiologist at the Kansas City Health Department. “The interview went really well but many of the questions were medical based, and I am not a clinician. However, they reassured me they look for strong candidates with critical thinking skills and that professional mentoring and CDC training would provide the rest,” she said.
Her first year working in public health was 2003. SARS, Mad Cow Disease, and Monkeypox were making headlines.
“I was immediately hooked on my new career and was totally engaged. Every day was different and challenging. There was a constant education piece to learn about new pathogens. The team approach was always present and the health of the community was always the focus. I felt I was making a real impact on the world,” Helen said.
She married her husband, Robb, whom she met in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps., in 2005. In 2006, they moved back to Omaha and Helen joined the Douglas County Health Department. The couple has three children, Dominic, Sophia, and Julia. They are members of St. Pius X Parish in Omaha where the children also attend grade school.
“Faith has always been a big component of my career. I never mention God or Jesus, but everything I do is about helping people when they need it most. Unfortunately, everyone I speak with is ill. Sometimes, people are facing tremendous hardships and I wish I could do more for them. That’s the hardest part of my job,” she said.
Helen currently serves on the Alumnae Council, attends alumnae events and FIESTA each year. She hopes her two daughters will follow in her footsteps and attend Mercy.
“Mercy gives you a quiet confidence and empowers you to make a difference in the world. I call it confidence with humility. You can be a leader without having the top title if you remember to put others first,” she said.
Thank you, Helen, for all you are doing to help keep our community safe and healthy!