Through Thick and Thin: Foundation trustee Mary Flaherty is a champion of women's health
December 29, 2014
Saint John’s Health Center has been with Mary Flaherty through the best of times and the worst of times. The best times were when two of her three children were born at the Health Center: Mary Catherine in 1986 and Maureen in 1992.
The first of the worst times came in between those births when Flaherty was treated for breast cancer after being diagnosed in 1989 at age 32. Twelve years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again and was treated at Saint John’s.
“That’s how I got involved in women’s health,” says Flaherty, a Foundation trustee and longtime Health Center supporter. “I feel you have to make lemonade out of lemons. Some good had to come out of it.”
Flaherty is grateful that the second cancer was a new primary cancer, not a spread of the original, which is a more challenging prognosis. She now mentors women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, focusing on education, prevention and encouragement.
"Saint John’s is special to our family. There is a spiritual aspect to Saint John’s, an emotional, social and psychological aspect to treatment that you don’t get elsewhere. That gives patients an extra advantage when it comes to healing.” – Mary Flaherty
However, her dedication to the Health Center predates her personal experiences. You might say Saint John’s is a family tradition. Her father, Jim Hesburgh, is a trustee emeritus and former chair of the Foundation. Nearly 30 years ago, Flaherty, her mother, Mary, and Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka, SCL, met with Saint John’s benefactor, actress Irene Dunne.
“I was one of the founding members of the Irene Dunne Guild and was president when it was newly formed,” Flaherty says. She led the guild in 1989–1991 and 1994–1995.
The guild was just the beginning. Flaherty joined the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation board in 2003 and remains a trustee today. She also joined the Health Center board of directors in 2007 and chaired the board in 2011–2012.
“I really loved serving on the hospital board,” Flaherty says. “The board was able to accomplish many great things, and it was an amazing group of directors. It was a cohesive group of people who worked well together and had a commitment that is seldom found at other health care institutions.”
Most recently Flaherty was benefit committee chair for Power of Pink 2014: An Acoustic Evening with P!NK and Friends, held on October 23. Proceeds benefited cancer prevention programs at the Margie Petersen Breast Center.
Flaherty also serves on the board and is incoming chair of the Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Los Angeles. She had acupuncture during chemotherapy in her second battle with breast cancer. “I see a merging of Eastern and Western medicine throughout health care,” she says.
When she’s not busy with assorted boards and committees in her Westside community, Flaherty loves to travel and spend time with her far-flung family: a son and daughter in Illinois, a daughter in Texas and parents in Indiana. At home, she and her husband Jay have three dogs.
“I joke we replaced every child with a dog when the child left home,” she said. They now have two German shepherds and a golden mix. Two dogs are rescues.
During her time on the Foundation and Health Center boards, she has served on a multitude of committees including women’s health, board affairs, governance, strategic, finance, audit and quality control, to name a few.
“I feel like I earned a master’s or PhD in health care through my experience on these committees,” Flaherty jokes. “I’ve also made a lot of really wonderful friends through various committees. Saint John’s is special to our family. There is a spiritual aspect to Saint John’s, an emotional, social and psychological aspect to treatment that you don’t get elsewhere. That gives patients an extra advantage when it comes to healing.” And Flaherty understands healing very well.