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IHS success stories - Adrienne Laverdure, M.D., family practitioner

LAC DU FLAMBEAU, Wisc. – Tears stung her flushed cheeks. Her usually proud chin sunk deep into her chest. The soft-spoken teenager stood in the doorway of her childhood home on the remote Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and took one last look at the shades of green.

“I was terrified,” said Adrienne Laverdure.

She had a suitcase in one hand; a bicycle in the other; $25 in her pocket and a dream of becoming a doctor. The moment had arrived thanks to the IHS Scholarship Program. It was time to start her journey.

Young Adrienne first tried to back out. Stay at home. Maybe raise a family. But her mother knew the daughter’s potential and stated “Don’t come back without a degree.”

Dr. Laverdure, M.D., now reflects “Thank God she did that. And thank God for the scholarship.”

Her grades? Excellent. However, the third year of medical school brought another challenge for the Chippewa native. She was pregnant. Thrilled. But the stress of being both student and mother took its toll. She failed the first set of board exams. IHS stepped in to help once again.

Said Laverdure “They sent me to a six-month program to prep me on how to study for tests. They knew I had the knowledge. It was the tests. It’s interesting, the Native American people tend to not test as well as others. I believe a lot of it is because we are more visual than many other people. That is how we learn best.”

With that helping hand, she passed the boards with flying colors. The young doctor, now all grown up, returned to the Chippewa Nation with baby Kenny in her arms. This time, as a family physician for the Nooksack Indian Tribe.

One thing that quickly earned her a reputation is that she truly, truly cares for her patients. That is part of the reason she was appointed as an advisor to the Minority Health Board in 2004 under Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and then-Director of IHS, Dr. Charles Grim.

But, the things she cares most about are her children. Kenny also decided to become a doctor. His goal? To serve the Native people. He completed his undergraduate degree at Yale. Thanks to the IHS Scholarship Program, he is now a third year medical student at Harvard.

“I am amazed at how successful my son has become,” she said. “Then again, there are days that I still can’t believe I’m a doctor. It is the most gratifying feeling in the world.”

She looks forward to Ken’s graduation. Laverdure is also proud of her daughter’s accomplishments. Veronica, 11, plans to become a pastry chef.

When saving lives is not always possible, Laverdure still uses her skills and understanding of the Native Americans and their culture to do her job.

“I stayed with a family while the mother was terminally ill and passed away. They were so grateful that I did not abandon them during their time of need. It made her passing a little easier for them. ... and for me. I like to think that when I give that extra effort to people, it is all part of healing,” she said.

That compassion is the reason she wanted to study medicine in the first place. And that same compassion is obviously a family trait – just look at Ken’s successful academic record in a field that is all about caring for others. He will, no doubt, be in the headlines soon.

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