“It’s been the best thing that I ever could have done with my life.” Spoken softly and sincerely, Teresa makes it instantly clear that her 40-year career in medicine has been so much more than a job.
Splitting her time between nursing at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, visiting orphanages in China to lend her medical knowledge, traveling to countries like Guatemala to care for impoverished communities, or India to assist with cleft palate operations, and maybe stopping to take a breath every now and then, Teresa has somehow managed to also make herself a vital asset to MATTER’s Hospital in a Box program.
Teresa’s mother was a nurse that looked after her and 13 siblings, the youngest of which was fatally ill. When there was nothing left that the doctors could do, her youngest sibling returned home to be cared for by Teresa’s mother until passing at just two years old. Although the profound influence the event had on her wasn’t revealed then, Teresa reflects that “in retrospect, that’s what made me go into nursing, and also why I work with children.”
After having amassed over twenty years’ worth of medical expertise, Teresa began looking for ways to expand her reach. “I love to travel, and I always dreamed of doing that with my nursing,” she explains. Knowing that there were areas in the world that lack the medical care we are fortunate enough to experience in the U.S., her destination was clear, but her path remained uncertain.
That is, until a routine patient check turned into a life changing conversation.
One day, at the bedside of a patient, Teresa was discussing her desire to travel to other countries to provide medical treatment. “The family and I were talking about how that was one of the things I wanted to do yet in my life, and then there was a pharmacist just passing out the medication,” she recalls. Teresa pauses before she continues, a coy smile working its way across her lips as she explains what happened next. “And he goes “Well, have I got an organization for you,”” she grins.
Thirteen years later, on a mission to find more supplies for an orphanage she works with in China, Teresa stumbled across MATTER and our Hospital in a Box program. MATTER’s mission immediately resonated with her. “It’s a cool thing to take what used to go in the garbage and repurpose it.”
The bounty of medical expeditions Teresa has under her belt has allowed her to observe what items can be used in other countries and identify the rare items that can are invaluable for clinics in the hard-to-reach places MATTER sends supplies to.
Teresa has seen for herself the immense impact having the correct supplies can have on a medical facility. “I’ve been to these places and know some incredibly, incredibly poor places where they don’t even have a sheet between a blood and urine soaked mattress and a patient,” she says, her voice carrying the weight of her experiences. These experiences are transposed into MATTER’s MEDsorts, where Teresa can identify even the most obscure instrument with ease.
During warehouse sorting events, you’ll see Teresa buzzing from station to station, box to box, explaining the medical tools to volunteers with the same speed and agility as a bee pollinating flowers.
“See this? This is a feeding tube. This can be the difference between life and death for a baby born five weeks early,” Teresa instructs at a Medical Supply Sort, while simultaneously juggling a bag of catheters and rushing to tape up a box ready to be shipped off to a hospital in need. Her astounding command of medical instruments and the extreme care with which she engages volunteers has completely revamped MATTER’s MEDsorts.
“Before Teresa, groups would come to the Sorts and leave having learned about our organization. But now, they want to come back and do it again because they really enjoyed it,” raves Katie Schlangen, MATTER’s International Program Manager.
And Teresa does it all because: “I love being able to influence people coming to volunteer, and encourage people to being open to helping the rest of the world, helping each other, and feel good about themselves for doing things for other people.”
Without leaders like Teresa and the thousands of volunteers who come to help sort, MATTER’s MEDsorts wouldn’t be possible. Together, we establishing a foundation for communities in some of the hardest to reach corners of the world to increase access to health care.