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Lending a Hand and Giving a Heart

Shawn Andaya-Pulliam ‘88 shows selfless service, an Aggie core value, during the holiday season.

By Tiarra Drisker ‘25

Shawn Andaya-Pulliam ‘88 is the executive director for the Vincent Obioma Ohaju Memorial (VOOM) Foundation, a humanitarian organization that recruits and sends medical teams from Bryan-College Station and across the United States to Nigeria to perform heart surgeries and assist with other healthcare needs in areas that otherwise would not have such medical practices. 

The VOOM Foundation was founded in 2004 by native South Eastern Nigerian and trauma medical director, Vincent Ohaju, after witnessing his father pass away from pulmonary aspiration, something that is completely curable here in the United States. Over 95 percent of people in Nigeria live without essential medical services and the country was ranked 187 out of 190 countries in healthcare in 2016 by the World Health Organization.    

“VOOM Foundation is important because we are serving people in another country with very little healthcare options,” Andaya-Pulliam said. “We also restarted the open-heart surgery program in Nigeria in 2013 and have completed more cases than any other healthcare institution in the country. As the executive director for VOOM, I am very proud of this statistic but as a human being I am deeply saddened.”

During her time at Texas A&M, Andaya-Pulliam was a sociology major and played softball for the university. After graduating with her bachelors in sociology, Shawn coached softball for five years then began working in the field of nonprofit fundraising at places such as the Boys & Girls Club and the Brazos Valley Children’s Museum. She spent 20 years in general nonprofit fundraising development and began fundraising for healthcare 14 years ago. Shawn will have been a part of the VOOM Foundation for five years in January, but there is still one experience that has stayed with her.

On her first mission in 2016, Shawn was greeted by the father of a young boy who had received open-heart surgery from a previous mission. The man thanked her profusely, but Shawn explained that she had not attended that mission. He insisted on thanking her anyway and went on to explain that his son had actually passed shortly after the mission. Confused, Shawn asked the man why he was thanking her if his son had passed.

“He looked at me, with his eyes full of tears, and said to me ‘I guess you don’t understand. It’s because VOOM gave us hope.’ I was somewhat taken aback because it had just dawned on me that VOOM was more than heart surgery, educational medical programs, and saving lives but that we were impacting communities and families in a greater way by providing hope in a somewhat hopeless country,” Shawn shared. “It was one of the factors that pushed me to want to work for VOOM and one of the most powerful moments of my career.”

This experience inspired Shawn to make this mission more than a one-time thing. She knew the VOOM Foundation was the perfect place to put her fundraising skills to use. On the flight home, Shawn told founder, Ohaju, that she would be his first employee and work for him for the rest of her life.

“He said to me, ‘We can’t afford you,’” she recalled. “I told him that all I needed was for the VOOM board to fund me for six months and after that I would fund myself thereafter and that he was not to worry. Now, I have been with the foundation for four years.”

Since her employment as executive director, the VOOM Foundation has signed partnerships with four new hospitals, grown its donor and volunteer base, and increased industry support.

“VOOM Foundation has been very fortunate to have someone of Shawn’s caliber to hire as our first executive director,” Ohaju said. “She chose to work for VOOM because she is a very passionate and caring person who wants to address world issues and is willing to go the extra mile to support our mission.”

Shawn credits her ability to fundraise and work with others to the College of Liberal Arts and her experience as an Aggie.

“I believe my sociology degree has provided me with the knowledge, skills and foundation to work in an environment dealing with both local and world issues and problems,” Andaya-Pulliam explained. “In both the classroom and my career, my Aggie experience has prepared me for all the personal and professional challenges ahead. I am where I am today because I am an Aggie.”