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Armed Services Blood Program Bids Farewell to Beloved 'Irish Nurse'

Image of Armed Services Blood Program Bids Farewell to Beloved 'Irish Nurse'. Finola Brophy-Houlihan, Armed Services Blood Bank Center - National Capital Region, reviews donor information prior to approving the service member for blood donation. (Photo: Donna Onwona)

Finola Brophy-Houlihan, known as the “Irish Nurse” with the Armed Services Blood Bank Center - National Capital Region, is retiring after more than 43 years in nursing including more than three decades in military and civilian blood collection.

“I have worked with Finola for seven years,” shared ASBBC-NCR Medical Director U.S. Navy Capt. Dr. Michael DeVan. “She was an incalculable asset to the drive teams, she will be missed, and she has earned her retirement!”

Brophy-Houlihan was the NCR's mobile blood drive team nurse for the last nine years. She said, however, that when she was in high school in Ireland, she had no idea what she wanted to do.

"We were encouraged to think about all career paths," Brophy-Houlihan shared. "We applied for everything, in the hope that we'd get something. I was fortunate to be offered a place in nursing.”

Brophy-Houlihan trained to become a nurse in Ireland, graduating in 1980 with a registered general nurse diploma and then attending post-graduate training in midwifery at the National Maternity Hospital.

After completing additional training in pediatric nursing at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Brophy-Houlihan couldn’t find a nursing position in Ireland and was unemployed for four months. At the same time, there was a big nursing shortage in the U.S., and agencies were hiring Irish nurses to work here.

"The thinking then was that the young people were trained, and then emigrated abroad. In fact, throughout nurse training, we were strongly encouraged to think about working abroad to widen our experiences,” she said.

As Brophy-Houlihan recalled the experience, she explained that "I interviewed with a nephrologist from New York City who offered me a position in his outpatient dialysis facilities. His requirement was a one-year commitment and a willingness to learn new skills. He also sponsored my work visa and eventually my green card. I look on it as an opportunity presented, that was better than any of my other options, so I took advantage of the offer."

She added, “I had also been working with a hospital blood donor center in Washington, D.C., since March 1992, in a department that was closed in 2014. After we sent out our resumes, an ASBBC nurse who had recently retired—one who I helped train years ago—encouraged me to apply. I always enjoyed training new employees, and that appealed to me as one of the aspects of the job."

Brophy-Houlihan said that she'll remember the donor and work family at the Armed Services Blood Program most.

"That sense of family … being part of the donor team, we spend more time together than with our own families. Keep in mind the long hours, not enough sleep, the alarm clock going off at 3:30 a.m., and driving long distances to our blood drives," she said.

“I always felt secure knowing she was on the blood drives,” stated DeVan. “Since her wealth of knowledge and experience, coupled with her compassionate and dedicated care of the donors, meant that the entire blood donation process for everyone went much more smoothly.”

Her Contributions to the Armed Services Blood Program

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ashlee Lawless, a hospital corpsman and mobile blood drive team leader with the ASBBC-NCR at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, said she'll miss Brophy-Houlihan, describing her as "a jack of all trades on our blood-drive team.”

"From donor processing to quality validation, she has been the one who always knows what to do, from the day that I got to ASBBC-NCR," Lawless said. "She was always there to give advice, thoughts and suggestions, no matter what the issue was. She'll be missed, not only for her years of experience, but for her willingness to share that experience with the young sailors and soldiers. Finola was never one to turn down a training opportunity and was always ready and willing to learn new things. The ASBBC NCR team wishes her the very best in her retirement," Lawless shared.

Reflecting on her time at ASBBC, Brophy-Houlihan also praised the donors. "Really, it’s our donors who stand out," she said. "The ASBP is very fortunate to have such a dedicated group of donors who believe in our mission and come back, time after time.

"I think the ASBP mission is a worthy one," Brophy-Houlihan said. "Knowing that our work contributes to providing lifesaving blood products to our military family across the world, is amazing. I am just a small cog in a big wheel that has contributed to helping thousands of lives."

When she retires, she doesn’t plan on slowing down.

"I already have a trip to Europe planned," Brophy-Houlihan said. "I’d like to volunteer with the elderly community and maybe take some classes.”

She also expects to take advantage of other opportunities that come her way.

"One never knows, taking advantage of opportunities that may present can lead to new experiences," she said. "After all, look at what I’ve done over the past 46 years, because I took advantage of opportunities."

“Finola has been an instrumental part of our operations for last almost nine years,” shared ASBBC-NCR Director U.S. Navy Lt. Michelle O. Wallace. “Her hard work and dedication have been above and beyond anyone’s expectations. Being the newest director of ASBBC-NCR, I would like to thank Finola for everything she has done for our team and mission, from myself and the past directors she has worked with.”

Brophy-Houlihan’s decades of saving lives leaves a lasting legacy. The NCR’s “Irish Nurse” and her years of service will always be remembered by the ASBBC.

Armed Services Blood Program

Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program is the official blood program of the United States military. Our mission is to provide quality blood products and support to military health care operations worldwide; from the battlefield to the local hospital, whenever and wherever needed. The ASBP collects, processes, stores, transports, and distributes blood products to service members, their families, retirees and veterans in peace and war. In an ASBP Enterprise view – Military Health Affairs, Defense Health Agency, Service Blood Programs and Combatant Commands – we operate under common goals, metrics, procedures, and work together to shape the future.

The ASBP is one of four organizations tasked with providing a safe blood supply to the nation. Our program also works closely with our civilian counterparts in times of need to maximize the availability of this national treasure.

To find out more about the ASBP or schedule an appointment to donate, please visit interact directly with ASBP staff members or get the latest news, follow us @militaryblood on Facebook and Twitter, and @usmilitaryblood on Instagram.

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Last Updated: June 27, 2023
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