Epiphany’s Healing Hands
November 16, 2016
The walls of Epiphany Center’s Pediatric Clinic are covered in photos of smiling faces. Children of all ages, happy families, and life-long patients--these photos are a testament to the compassionate care that Dr. Clem Donahue, MD and Melissa Belbahri, NP have provided since 1995. In 1997, Dr. Clem was invited to join Epiphany’s clinic, a satellite of San Francisco General. Melissa joined in 1999 when she was looking for a weekend job during her Bachelor’s studies, and has since become the Nurse Coordinator. Together the pair form a dynamic duo, keeping more than 50 children healthy each year. Since their partnership began, they have conducted over 4,250 clinic visits. Many kids grow from infancy to adulthood under the care of Dr. Clem and Melissa. It’s not long before they are both whipping out their phones to proudly show off photos of their own kids—these two are champions for children!
“Believe it or not I’m from Mississippi, but I moved to Berkeley when I was five years old”, says Dr. Clem, from a family of medical professionals. Melissa is from northern California, though her family has East Coast roots. Both share a fiercely proud Irish heritage, and get their families together for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. They cook an Irish feast of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes each year for Epiphany staff and clients, with a mini Irish history lesson. Dr. Clem’s sense of humor and Melissa’s patience go hand in hand to create a humble partnership that has stood the test of time. We had the chance to hear from them both on their longevity of service and the quality of connection they are able to establish with patients and their families.
Why pediatrics at Epiphany?
Clem: Because kids are fun and cute! And it’s empowering to help these women learn to take care of their kids.
Melissa: It is really the family setting that I love. If we can make a difference for just one mom and her child that comes through our doors, than that difference carries over into the next generation. More often than not a mom in recovery will bring her child back to Epiphany’s Pediatric Clinic even after they’ve moved on from Epiphany’s Recovery program.
Clem: Sometimes the babies we see grow up and bring their own babies to us.
Melissa: It’s wonderful, it’s old fashioned--
Clem: It’s multigenerational!
Melissa: It’s community care that we often don’t see in big cities anymore.
Why do families keep coming back?
Melissa: I think one reason is because we don’t judge them. We are just happy they are bringing their children to us. I always have hope for them. It’s my belief that these moms love their kids and want to do a good job, but just need a little help doing it.
Clem: They know they will be taken care of here.
Melissa: I love working with this population. I have great admiration for the moms and dads I work with, and for women in recovery.
Clem: It’s easy to be inspired by their stories of wanting to better their lives for their children. I get really inspired when parents are doing well, and can recognize their addiction for what it is and learn to behave differently for their kids. It’s a blessing for us.
Melissa: Definitely. Seeing the families grow and remain together as a family unit is my biggest reward.
Stable families create stable communities, and that’s what we all want.
Clem: Seeing the women doing service for others is also a great reward. We had a client go on to graduate from college with her B.A. in social work. Her family is still together and she’s giving back to her community.
Melissa: I remember one client who was very poor, but she came in one day and wanted to send money overseas to mothers in Afghanistan after hearing their plight. I was amazed at her ability to go outside of herself.
Clem: You wouldn’t believe some of the horror stories our clients have lived through, and the trauma, but somehow they are able to rise above it.
Melissa: I love these families, I really do. But I don’t always love the paperwork.
Clem: Missed appointments are frustrating, but it’s just part of the job. A good sense of humor helps.
What motivates you?
Clem: I’m inspired by the energy of my peers who are enthusiastic about helping people, it’s cathartic and sets off a chain reaction of motivation for our mission. I also love how real our families are at Epiphany.
Melissa: Epiphany families! Seeing them getting out of poverty, getting an education, and bettering their lives.
What changes have you seen over the years?
Clem: There’s been a change in the demographics of clients, we are much more diverse racially and ethnically now.
Melissa: There’s also a change in the substances used over the years. Right now we see a lot of variety, and a combination of different substances.
What’s the best part of working together all these years?
Melissa: Clem is non-judgmental, and he’s got a great sense of humor. We have fun with the families and the kids love him!
Clem: We’re like brother and sister. It’s awesome. We share the same morals and similar energy towards society. We also have similar parenting styles, I ask her advice about my own kids. We have that sort of dynamic.
Clem: I like old cars, I started racing again.
Melissa: I’m a country music fan. I love Merle Haggard, shhhhh!!