Iris Meda loved her craft so much, she left retirement to teach nursing students at a Texas community college in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 70-year-old nurse retired in January, but applied for a teaching job at Collin College in Allen, Texas — just under 30 miles north of Dallas — to help train aspiring nurses, her daughter Selene Meda-Schlamel told CNN.
“I know for her, it was important to train nurses because she knew that the medical field was going to suffer due to Covid-19,” her daughter said, “but she also felt safe going into the classroom, and she understood that nothing was guaranteed by doing so.”
Meda began the job in August. But on November 14, just a few months later, Meda died of Covid-19, according to Meda-Schlamel.
Collin College requires that all students, faculty, staff, contractors and visitors wear face coverings while in all public areas, according to the schools Fall 2020 restart plan. Meda-Schlamel said she thinks her mother contracted the virus while teaching.
“She felt like she could be of service not on the front lines, but in classroom not realizing that that was still the front lines,” Meda-Schlamel said. “She was the anchor of the family and the anchor is gone now.”
Collin College’s District President Neil Matkin shared the news of Meda’s passing in an email to the faculty.
“October 2, Meda was working with a dual credit CNA [certified nursing assistant] student at Anna High School who was demonstrating sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes,” Matkin wrote, according to the Washington Post.
“All were wearing masks, but were not socially distanced due to the skills being practiced,” the email said. “On October 9, 2020 — Professor Meda learned the student tested positive for COVID. On October 11, 2020, Iris began having a sore throat and she reportedly began feeling worse on October 12th and 13th. On October 14th she met with her PCP and was tested for COVID with a PCR test.”
Kirk Dickey, Collin College’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, confirmed the contents of the email in a statement to CNN.
Meda-Schlamel said she got to say goodbye to her mother in the hospital, where she entered her mother’s room wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent catching the virus herself.
“She was completely lifeless,” she said of seeing her mother. “It was very clear that (her body) was just a vessel and to think that anyone comes back from that is amazing because it (the virus) ravaged her so quickly.”
Meda wanted to pass down her expertise to students
Meda was motivated to pass on her expertise in nursing to aspiring students in part due to her own education experience, Meda-Schlamel said.
She dropped out of high school but later got her GED.
While enrolled in a program, Meda-Schlamel said an instructor told her mother that “completing the program and getting a high school equivalency didn’t mean anything.”
Meda didn’t let those words bring her down. Instead, she pursued higher education and eventually graduated in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.
Having worked in the field for years in both New York and Texas, Meda worked in nursing homes for a large portion of her career.
“When we discussed her going back to work, we thought she was going to be doing online classes,” Meda-Schlamel said.
But when Meda’s first day of classes at Collin College started in August, she was slated to teach in-person labs. Meda-Schlamel said her mom felt comfortable in the classroom and wore a mask while teaching.
‘She was doing what she loved’
The family is taking comfort in knowing that Meda’s life came full circle from being a high school dropout to entering a career as a professor.
“We knew that she was doing what she loved in teaching, she loved her students and enjoyed teaching,” Meda-Schlamel said. “It’s bittersweet and part of me blames myself, I wish I would have said ‘no, you need to stay home and that’s that,’ but I know she really wanted to do it (teach).”
Matkin extended the Board of Trustees, students, faculty and staff’s “deepest condolences to the Meda family.”
“Professor Meda’s family shared that she was honored to serve as an instructor at Collin College,” Matkin said in a statement to CNN, “and we are sincerely grateful for her service to our students.”
A GoFundMe in Meda’s name has been setup to cover funeral and medical expenses and a scholarship fun in her honor. Funeral services are scheduled for December 5.