Nurse Who Came Out of Retirement to Teach Future Healthcare Workers Dies After Getting COVID

After nearly 40 years working as a nurse, Iris Meda retired in January, hoping to spend her newfound free time traveling with her husband and seeing her siblings and daughter. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, she decided to get back to work and train the next generation of nurses.

“She felt like if she could gain momentum by teaching some of those basics, we could contain any virus,” her daughter, Selene Meda-Schlamel, told The Washington Post. “She wanted to do something that would make a difference.”

Meda, 70, taught students nursing basics for several months at Collin College in Dallas, until October, when a student came into class with COVID-19 symptoms and likely infected her. After several weeks in the hospital with a severe case of the virus, Meda died on Nov. 14.

Meda, a high school dropout who earned her GED and a degree in nursing from the City College of New York in 1984, first started working as a nurse at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City. She moved to Texas and spend most of her career working in the state, and by time she retired in January, she had been a nursing clinic administrator with the North Texas Job Corps.

When the pandemic hit, Meda knew that her plans to travel would have to be put on hold, especially because her age put her at a high-risk for severe illness. But after a month at home, she wanted to help in some way and decided to apply at Collins, where she would teach high school juniors and seniors who wanted to become nurses. The classes would be in-person, but masked, and Meda felt it was worth the risk.

“One of the reasons she wanted to be an educator, specifically in nursing at this time, the reason she came out of retirement to pursue it was because of the pandemic,” Meda-Schlamel, 47, told NBCDFW. “She wanted to train other frontline workers to help in this crisis.”

Meda bonded, in particular, with the students who needed more help.

“She would say how she could pick out the ones who were struggling and she would stay after with them and give them a helping hand because she had received so much encouragement in her life,” Meda-Schlamel said.

After two months teaching, a student came into class with COVID-19 symptoms, including sneezing, coughing and watery eyes. Though they were all masked, it was not possible to social distance for the lesson that day, Collin’s president, H. Neil Matkin, said in an email, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The student tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 9, and two days later Meda started showing symptoms. By Oct. 17, Meda needed to be hospitalized with severe COVID-19 illness.

At the hospital, Meda was given two antibodies transfusions and the antiviral drug remdesivir to treat the pneumonia that she developed.

“She was hopeful that she would get out of it because her last words were ‘I’m going to fight. I’m New York strong,’ ” Meda-Schlamel told the Post of her mom, who grew up in Harlem.

But on Oct. 28, Meda had to be intubated, and on Nov. 14, one month after she tested positive for COVID-19, she died of heart failure due to the virus.

“Just to see this amazing, vivacious woman… so willing to put her life on the line to help others so they could then help others, to see her languishing there. It was such a tragedy,” Meda-Schlamel told NBCDFW.

Meda’s church has set up a GoFundMe to help with her medical bills and to set up a scholarship fund in her name.

“For her, this was also a service to her country, being able to usher nursing assistants into the work field during a pandemic when they are most needed,” Meda-Schlamel told the Post. “I hope that students realize the compromise that their teachers are putting themselves in and recognize that they are themselves heroes.”

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