By Dachele Cuke, Washington Adventist University

Ava Abtahi, a second-year Honors College student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington Adventist University, is planning a career in medicine. So when Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called for volunteers to help with COVID-19 testing this spring, she quickly rose to the challenge.

In a few days, Abtahi, a pre-med major, went to work on getting the certifications and training she needed to be a first responder. “It’s in my blood,” she said. “I basically got injected with that phrase from Honors College that ‘we’re here to better serve others.’ And I can’t [not help].”

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Abtahi moved to the United States almost nine years ago from Iran. Since she was a child, her parents wanted to move to a place where their daughter would be free to live out her dreams. When it was time for Ava to choose a college, she was drawn to WAU. “I could have gone to any school … but I just felt this school would be the school that I would excel in,” she said. “And I’m glad that I’ve chosen WAU because I’m sure if I were at other schools, I would not be able to do the things that I’m doing here.”

She wasted little time getting started on her path of service to others. On her first day helping administer COVID-19 tests, she and her fellow volunteers tested around 1,000 people. “I’m just happy to see other people in our area that were willing to risk their lives to go against something as big as COVID-19 and help the community,” she said.

Ava Abtahi removes her COVID-19 mask to show the bruises it left on her face.

Abtahi and the other volunteers worked shifts as long as 12-14 hours. “I remember every time I came out, I would have this bruise everyone was getting,” she said. “We had to wear [a three-layered mask] for testing, so it left a mark. Even my ears were hurting.”

On some days, she worked handling calls and scheduling tests for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Health Department, with between 15,000 and 20,000 calls pouring in each day. There was no room for mess-ups while inputting names and numbers—if one letter or number was off, that individual could not get tested.

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“Sometimes I felt really tired, but I couldn’t say no,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes, but it felt good at the end.”

Abtahi believes her passion for serving others kept her going. “I live by helping people,” she said. “If I don’t help people, I feel like I don’t exist.”

She said WAU’s Honors College has been a significant influence on her. “I’m just glad the culture of Honors College is [about] serving people.”

Throughout her period of volunteering during the COVID-19 crisis, Abtahi also earned 10 hours of credit in summer courses and served as a teacher’s assistant.

Abtahi poses with one of her professors at WAU.

Abtahi hopes to be a cardiovascular or cardiothoracic surgeon. “Many people die because of heart failure and not having heart transplants,” she said. “When I was in high school, I started this little side research [project] of 3D-printing hearts. I just had the idea in my mind. When I got to WAU, I brought it up with [a professor], and he said, ‘We can work on this!’”

Her advice to other aspiring doctors and nurses: “Keep a positive attitude and keep the goal in mind always. Your goal is to do your best in helping someone.”

This article has been edited and condensed from the original two-part post appearing here and here on Washington Adventist University’s website. 

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