Dr. Amy Acton on the experiences that shaped her and prepared her for role in this crisis

Posted at 5:36 PM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 19:29:10-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Dr. Amy Acton doesn't seem like your typical cabinet member, it's because she isn't.

"Never in my life did I expect a phone call or a job like this," Dr. Acton said of the call she got from a newly elected Governor Mike DeWine.

"His very first question to me, sitting just like we are, he just said 'so tell me how you grew up Amy?' And I answered it honestly which is not, my childhood was not something I went around talking about extensively in my life up until very recently."

Yes, while Ohioans have come to know Acton through the job she has now as Ohio Health Director, many don't know the path she took to get here and the obstacles she faced: a product of a financially struggling broken home. There was abuse and neglect; constantly moving from place to place before the age of 12. She even time spent homeless living out of a tent. They are experiences that wouldn't break her but rather shape her into the person she would become.

"I mentioned a gentleman named Joseph Campbell in one of our press conferences, he was a teacher who had studied all world religions and mythologies and I remember him having this quote that 'your life seems like it's rambling all over but then at the end when you look back on it it's a perfectly composed play.'"

"I do think it's made me have a certain resiliency and a focus in crisis and an ability to tolerate," she recalled. "It makes you hyper vigilant, so I am constantly scanning the environment for threats and can take in large amounts of information so I have this sort of protect everyone feeling. But there are so many other things that play into this, the time I spent as a professor teaching public health and my students or random things I've experienced with my children, all of it is somehow a part of this moment and I don't know how to express that to people."

So if it seems in those daily briefings like she is empathizing with those impacted this crisis, it's because she truly is.

"Today looking at campgrounds, which is one of the places I was homeless in a tent in the winter in Ohio, but knowing that there are people probably at campgrounds right now who can't pay their rent and then we're deciding whether or not that's a good thing to have open or not and so all of these things, they're very very difficult decisions and I think about the people they're impacting," she said.

In the past month, there have been Facebook fan pages and other groups created in her honor. Acton says she hasn't had the time to look but her family will point things out to her at times when she needs a lift and she said it gives her a lift.

"I mean it makes me teary eyed just thinking about it I don't know why," she said.

Dr. Acton isn't one who dwells on the past but for this simple fact from history that drives her: "The story is always in all of the famous pandemics, you didn't do enough and you always wrack your brain hoping that you've done everything you can."