Rising Above Adversity

The word adversity that has so many meanings and interpretations; different for everyone. It relates to misfortune, difficulty, or tribulation. It also can mean disaster or suffering, even grief; just to mention a few. How do you deal with adversity in your life? Do you react positively or negatively? The person with a positive attitude toward adversity becomes stronger and more successful. So how are our immigrants overcoming adversity and teaching us the path to success?

Pamela Saechow, CEO of Ellit Groups shares her story.

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Born in Laos, June 25, 1973 was raised near the Chiang Khong District in the northeastern part of Chiang Rai Province, near Thailand by adoptive lu Mien parents. The lu Mien people are a Southeast Asian subset of the Yao people, a minority group originally from China.

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If you recall world history, this was during the war in Vietnam. The conflict did not remain within the borders of Vietnam, but expanded into neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia, where communist soldiers moved and operated. Thus, the lu Mien people migrated to areas of western Laos and Thailand. The US recruited Mien soldiers to fight along-side US Troops and the CIA in an operation called the “Secret War.” Pam’s adoptive father was one of those soldiers.

Pam’s adoptive mother unfortunately passed away before Pam turned a year old. Her grandmother was raising 6 children, single mom with the youngest only 6 months. She took Pam in and raised her since her dad was still in the military.

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With major US involvement ending in 1973, they were left to fend for themselves as they became enemies of their host country (Laos). The lu Mien people escaped on foot across the Mekong river to refugee camps in Thailand. When they escaped from the communist, apparently Pam saved the village because she became sick and threw up on the soldiers, so they left them alone.  

In 1976, western governments sent their embassy personnel to interview Lao refugees and process legal documents to allow them to settle in western countries. From 1976 to 1995, over 40,000 lu Mien people received refugee status and immigrated to the United States.

By 1980, the villages and refugee camps had begun population control and Pam was about to be disposed being the 3rd girl of a family whose dad had remarried.

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On February 21, 1980, Pam and her grandma along with the other children arrived in the US sponsored by the Methodist Church in Eugene, Oregon. Pam was 7 years old and did not speak any English but started elementary school there in the 2nd grade.

For many lu Mien people, this was still a time of tragedy, heart ache and adversity. Families were split and relocated with the majority of Mien people relocated to California and along the western coast. It is important to understand that the Mien people fought with the US as war allies and lost many lives to end up here in the United States as refugees.

At this point in Pam’s life, her grandmother continued to be her rock, her care giver, and her mentor. As a medicine woman back in Laos, her grandmother continued to care for the health of the Laotian community here in the US before modern healthcare with herbal medicine. 

Two years later they moved to Sacramento, California where she attended Maple Elementary School, 4th grade. As Pam began to learn and speak English, her grandmother incorporated her new skills to help the community with interpreting, to schedule their medical appointments, interpret their clinic visits with physicians, and calling payors for their eligibility. 

At an early age, healthcare became part of Pam’s life. While her grandmother encouraged the community to go to modern medicine, Pam continued to support the Mien people in service as an interpreter. She would translate letters for them, help fill out forms and broker any of their needs.

As Pam grew, so did her love of healthcare. As with anyone, there were times of triumph and times of struggle. When asked how she dealt with those times, Pam said her grandmother would say… “Always have a pure heart and a good head. You have the power to change the world if you focus on the positive. You are never a victim. God didn’t save your life so many times to come this far and give up.”

Great advice to anyone, and Pam took that to heart.  After graduating from Sacramento High School in 1991, she started pursuing her dreams. One of her earliest dreams was fulfilled in 1992 when she became a US citizen and began a long career working with large health systems like Sutter Health.

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Pam worked hard, but always feels she needs to work harder than anyone else because of where she came. Looking at her career, one would say that she is extremely motivated in achieving her dreams. Pam is a strong believer to intentionally support elevating good people to do their best. She continues to use her grandma’s advice. “Grandma said if you have a pure heart, good head ‘conscientious’ in all you do, with good intent and purpose greater than you, you never lose. Even if you lose, you did right.”

Pam’s career in healthcare has spanned more than 30 years including prominent leadership positions at some of the nation’s largest integrated healthcare delivery networks. She is a recognized leader in the Healthcare IT industry, bringing together the science and art of people, process, and technology to deliver positivity and real results.

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Over the past five years she has achieved honors from Health Data Management as 2017 Healthcare IT Woman of the Year and listed as Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT in 2018. Becker’s Hospital Review said she was one of the Most Influential Women in Healthcare IT in 2018. In 2019 she started Ellit Groups, a woman, minority-owned business and in 2020 she completed her MBA from Drexel University all while growing her business.

We are seeing change within healthcare IT; Provider and Life Sciences organizations are prioritizing diversity and working with firms like Ellit Groups. Diversity in an organization brings strength, differing outlooks and opinions. It helps us be our very best. In fact, we strive for it at Ellit Groups.

For many immigrants, America represented a site of hope, where a person’s background did not matter so long as they put in hard work toward achieving their dreams. Immigrants make up a majority of America’s business order despite making up a minority of the total population. The new face of American success is in the immigrants motivated to join the American workforce and rise above adversity.

Adversity, while it may be challenging for you, it is a life lesson. Each situation that you are confronted with builds character, makes you wiser and stronger than ever before. It helps shape who you are as a person. Accept this change as it comes about because through adversity comes greatness.

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