Gilda McKinney

Leading with a servant’s heart

Gilda McKinney was living in New Orleans in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. She had evacuated to Shreveport, but returned to a home and neighborhood destroyed by the storm. It would be one of many challenges in her life that strengthened her, and has enabled her to help others through trying times of their own.

A New Orleans native, Gilda graduated from ETSU with a BS in business administration, with a concentration in marketing. She had lived in Jonesborough for several years and worked at Eastman, but returned to New Orleans to care for an elderly uncle until his death a week before Katrina.

“I treat everyone with the same respect and love, and my goal is to spread peace.”

After Katrina, Gilda was offered a position as the patient navigator in the surgery department at Franklin Woods Hospital in Johnson City. She initially responded to the offer with a "no," but took the job and has been at Franklin Woods ever since. Her role is to work with both physicians and patients to ensure the admission process into surgery is smooth for everyone, and help family members in the waiting room during surgery.

“My family and I know what it’s like to have to wait, not knowing about the safety of your loved ones,” says Gilda. “I couldn’t communicate with my daughter for two weeks after Katrina. She didn’t know how I was, or even whether or not I was still alive.”

In addition to her work, Gilda is involved with her church and has completed an Emmaus walk, which was a key point in her spiritual life. She has one daughter, Tanyelle Bellamy, who works in Niswonger Children’s Hospital NICU, and a son-in-law, Barry.

“I was raised by my aunt, who was a schoolteacher and a woman strong in her faith. We come from a long line of ministers,” she explains. “The thing I’m most grateful for is that my aunt taught me – and I passed this on to my daughter – that the first and most important thing in life is to love God with your heart, mind and soul.”

Gilda says she brings her faith, and her life experience, to work every day in the surgery department. “Every morning I pray for the people I meet to see my Christ in me. I treat everyone with the same respect and love, and my goal is to spread peace. Surgery is a place of high anxiety, even for ‘small’ procedures. I want to ease that tension and make patients and loved ones feel at peace.

“I believe in the three D’s: the desire to serve, the drive to do your best, and the determination to stay the course, even when things are difficult,” says Gilda. “These things, with the openness to let God work through you, is what living to your God-given potential means.”