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Texas A&M biomedical sciences major Mya Phelps poses with the cook in Nigeria in May 2022
Texas A&M biomedical sciences major Mya Phelps '23 (left) with the cook in Nigeria during her first open heart medical mission trip with the nonprofit VOOM Foundation in May 2022. | Image: Courtesy photo

On any given day, Texas A&M University senior biomedical sciences major and College Station native Mya Phelps ’23 receives hundreds of email messages, perhaps none nearer and dearer to her heart than the four dozen or so that arrive from Nigeria.

As an intern for the nonprofit Vincent Obioma Ohaju Memorial (VOOM) Foundation dedicated to supporting and promoting underserved healthcare in Nigeria, Phelps is on the front lines of patient care, triaging incoming Zoom calls as well as all electronic communication from VOOM patients in need of certain medical attention in one of the world's most difficult places to find it. It’s a critical role the aspiring physician relishes, in part because of the vital first-responder perspective it provides along with the many opportunities it presents to make a difference.

“You have to realize that each email is a patient…this is someone’s life on the line,” Phelps said. “You’d love to hang up and disconnect, but I just really can’t do that, and I don’t want to do that — I want to be able to be there for them.

“Selfless service is something I value greatly as an Aggie, and the VOOM Foundation is the perfect example.” 

After graduating later this week with her bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from the College of Arts and Sciences, Phelps will pack her bags for her second open-heart medical mission trip with VOOM to the country, which is among those plagued by some of the worst healthcare in the world due to many factors, from poorly developed infrastructure and an inadequate workforce to several recent epidemics that have put tremendous strain on an already overloaded system. Phelps will be in Nigeria from May 12 to May 27. 

Texas A&M biomedical sciences major Mya Phelps and other VOOM Ambassadors, sitting in the back of a U-Haul full of packaged medical supplies
Phelps (left) and other VOOM Ambassadors with one of the U-Hauls full of packaged medical supplies. | Image: Courtesy photo

With specific regard to heart procedures in Nigeria, no more than 130 are completed in any given year, meaning less than 0.00006 percent of the country's 211 million people have access to life-saving cardiac surgery, much less viable treatment for congenital heart disease. Each year, VOOM sponsors multiple medical mission trips to Nigeria, where the foundation has built a free-standing hospital while also raising funds, creating awareness and supplying both the medical equipment and expertise needed to develop quality measures, care standards and other policies aimed at promoting population health in Africa’s most populous country and largest economy.

Phelps also serves as secretary for the VOOM Ambassadors, the foundation’s student branch at Texas A&M that assists with fundraising, special event hosting and medical supplies packaging. As secretary, Phelps sends out weekly emails, plans socials and helps with annual fundraisers, such as the Heart and Sole 5K and Kicks for Charity kickball game that generate funding support for and awareness of VOOM’s medical missions. In the past year, the combined events raised nearly $16,000 for Nigerian healthcare.

When it comes to help, Phelps says she gets as good as she gives. She considers herself the one who is blessed by the opportunity to serve in capacities that have expanded her organizational and communication skills while also giving her hands-on experience in the medical field. In addition to witnessing history last May with the grand opening of VOOM’s new hospital in Nigeria, Phelps says she assisted the medical team with scribing and in running labs. She even scrubbed in on several procedures, including an open-heart surgery, but found her ultimate fulfillment in the human factor.

“Really, our main goal was just to get to know the patients there, and I think we really accomplished that,” she said. “You save a whole network of family and people, so that’s just really cool to see.”

Texas A&M biomedical sciences major Mya Phelps, scrubbing in for open-heart surgery during her previous trip to Nigeria in May 2022
Phelps, scrubbing in for open-heart surgery during her previous trip to Nigeria in May 2022. | Image: Courtesy photo

Although being heavily involved in the foundation while on a pre-medicine track has presented Phelps with a full to-do list most days, she says her love for selfless service and seeing the real difference it makes in people’s lives has made the overall experience well worth the extra effort. 

“I’ve come to find out that selfless service is an exchange,” Phelps said. “I grow so much during the process and so do they.”

Once Phelps returns from Nigeria, she will be moving to Tyler to start medical school as part of The University of Texas at Tyler School of Medicine’s inaugural class. She says she hopes to gain lots of knowledge and experience en route to beginning her career in primary care, ideally pediatrics.

“I love the personal side of healthcare and am really looking to create long-term patient relationships,” Phelps added.

Phelps says her time at Texas A&M has provided her with many opportunities to make a difference in the world while honing her leadership skills and mentoring abilities. In addition to being involved in VOOM, Phelps has held a leadership position in the Freshman Leadership Organization MSC FLI and is a mentor within the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Organization. Through her involvement on campus, in the Bryan-College Station community and overseas, Phelps knows how she wants to live her life: by using her own resources and knowledge to help those who are less fortunate.

“Selfless service has changed me so much,” Phelps said. “It has changed the course of my life, my career path, and I specifically want to be a physician for that reason. If I made a difference in one person’s life, just by being a good friend or being there for them, I think I’ve done my job.”