Meet Dr. Donna Koch — she’s a wife and mother of three young children ages six, four and two!
That’s busy by any definition.
Dr. Koch is a medical doctor with a full time practice seeing thousands of patients a year and a medical doctor for ten years of both the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as well as serving as Doping Control Officer at the New York City and Boston Marathons and Olympic events.
Dr. Donna Koch is busy — always.
Whew! Want more?
She is a civic leader — an elected member to the Garfield Board of Education, serving for three years and appointed to the City of Garfield Planning Board.
First Women of Excellence Award! Yes! Awarded by Assemblywoman Sumter.
Celebrated Woman during Women’s History Month! Recognized by Senator Pou as a trailblazing woman and role-model.
Key to the City! Recipient of the “Key to the City of Garfield” presented by Mayor Raymond and the City Council. It is a rarely presented honor — only a handful of people have been similarly honored in the last half century.
Gasping yet? There’s more!
Grand Marshal! A fabulous honor! Dr. Koch was elected by popular vote in November 2015 to be Grand Marshal of the Pulaski Day Parade October 2, 2016, Fifth Avenue, New York City. The Parade is one of the oldest and largest parades in New York City. In the eighty-year history of the parade since it was founded in 1936, she is only the ninth woman Grand Marshal and the first in thirteen years.
Be sure to come to the Pulaski Day Parade! Look for Grand Marshal Dr. Donna Koch leading the parade!
Dr. Donna, as she is called by many, and I sat down to talk on a recent afternoon. She had just spoken as Grand Marshal at a 5K running event sponsored by the Polish American Sports Association, done a “hand-off” of their two-year old sleeping daughter, Audrey, to her husband, Mariusz — “a very supportive husband and incredible father”.
Speaking at the 5K run and tea with me — two things, but not all; the day we met, she was juggling a total five of events as part of the Grand Marshal celebration and preparations. And that was just what I knew about!
Are you breathless yet? I am.
Dr. Donna isn’t though. She takes it all in stride with grace, warmth and gratitude. She is energized by all she knows and does.
SUZE BIENAIMEE: What inspires you to do so much and clearly do it so well?
DR. DONNA KOCH: So much inspires me and knowing your question for StudioSeeds, I wanted to go deeper than just the basics of my family — my husband, children, relatives — heritage, civic work, and medical practice.
Relationships inspire me. I started to think more about my relationships over the years — how multi-faceted and complex they can be, yet at the same time, how simplistic in their nature, dynamics, permanency, ease, comfort and sometimes challenges.
I love forming relationships and always have. Since my childhood, I’ve been involved with so many people in so many ways, doing so many things. People are my “go to”; I like being engaged with them. I couldn’t imagine a life of solitude.
I married later in life and was thirty-eight years old when my first child, Darren, was born. I was especially focused on relationships at this eventful time because a child is definitely a life-changer.
In my hospital room, with my husband, Mariusz, asleep on the sofa, the nurse brought Darren into the room. Looking into the little bassinet for the first time, I saw his bright eyes. Out the window was a beautiful American flag waving. I kept looking at Darren, then to the flag — back and forth. I realized I was so shy looking at him and I thought, what am I going to do with you?!
I felt I knew so much as a doctor, but nothing about being a mother. I continued to think: I have to pick you up and pack you up with me to take you home in the morning! This was going to be no ordinary event, certainly not like anything I was used to. Oh no, this was going to be very different and more complicated indeed. I could no longer get up and go, just running out brushing my hair, putting on my makeup on the run. Now, I had to plan things around him; Darren was definitely going to be one of the most incredible relationships in my life.
In my medical practice, I have developed interesting relationships with my patients. Some follow my instructions and hopefully return to health; they are a joy to see and help regardless of the complexity of their health issues. Then there are those patients who may not follow my instructions, who prove to be challenging to help and are at times difficult to deal with. Yet, I love my patients and given the thousands and thousands I’ve seen and helped over the years, each is uniquely different; some relationships are definitely more personal than others. I feel fortunate to see and help so many people in my work, like the four-year-old girl who was nearly deaf because her ears were impacted with wax. Could I have been the first doctor she had ever seen? Removing wax from her ears was such a fundamental and simple procedure; after it, she was able to hear and to develop normally.
A final example is a very influential relationship that helped to make me who I am today; it was formed in my early adult life and it was with my mentor during my medical internship.
On the very first day, I had all my stuff for my new apartment packed in the car and I was with my orientation group at the hospital. “Uh, oh”, I heard from our group leader; she had spotted a doctor running down the hall toward us. Something was up. She immediately directed us to rush into a conference room; it was clearly to avoid him.
I hadn’t yet met my mentor and I was soon to find out he was heading in our direction. He burst into the conference room and asked who was on rotation with him. It was me! Here I was in a dress, very high heels and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet; I was definitely not ready for a day of seeing patients. My guide tried to protect me by saying it was move-in-day — I needed to be at the orientation, stay with the other interns, eat breakfast, move into my apartment. He simply said: “let’s go! let’s get running!”, and just like that, I was swept away on my first rotation.
I soon found out running was for real. We were up and down the halls; he was even literally sliding down banisters to go faster! It was easy for him; I later learned he was a triathlete.
Still in my high heels, wobble-running down the stairs trying to keep up, he said, over his shoulder looking back at me, “meet me around back as I pull up my car”, sort of like in the movies with the bad guys in a getaway car. [She chuckles.] I had a long day ahead of me, (and the list begins): early rounds in the hospital, cable-employee exams, firefighter and state employee physicals, more rounds in the hospital and nursing homes, several house calls. More! More! More! My head was spinning. My initiation to internship was a day of speeding. Every day of my training for the next three years was just like that first day.
I’m grateful. My relationship with my mentor, Dr. Martin Levine, really formed my character, taught me to be motivated, not to make excuses, to know exactly what needs to be done and do it!
Needless to say, I got to know him very well and after three years in residency, he asked me to join his practice and although I ultimately started my own, I still have a relationship with him today. In fact he just spoke at my Grand Marshal Sashing Ceremony.
SUZE BIENAIMEE: Wow! Dr. Donna, your energy, juggling, contributions, no excuses action-taking and relationships are all inspiring! Thank you.
Please connect with Dr. Donna Koch in the COMMENTS section for this post.
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