Nurse dies of COVID-19 after coming out of retirement to teach front-line workers

Iris Meda, 70, is shown in this handout photo. Nike Aina and Rehna Troutt/GoFundMe

A 70-year-old nurse who gave up her retirement to train a new generation of front-line workers for the pandemic has died, after contracting COVID-19 in north Texas.

Iris Meda died in a hospital earlier this month following complications from the coronavirus, which struck her while she was sharing her knowledge as a nursing instructor.

Meda called it a career in January, but she came back in August to share her expertise with high school and college students, according to her daughter, Selene Meda-Schlamel.

“Because of the pandemic, she wanted to train other front-line workers to help in this crisis,” Meda-Schlamel told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth. “She was doing what she loved.”

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Meda was born in Charleston, S.C., moved to Harlem when she was seven and dropped out of high school in her teens. She later completed her GED, got her degree in nursing and went on to work in that profession for more than three decades, according to her daughter. Meda worked for a time at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York, then moved to Texas and became a nursing clinic administrator until she retired.

Meda-Schlamel says her mother worked part-time as a consultant for several months after the pandemic arrived, and was very up to date on what was happening.

“When the pandemic hit and she had to go into isolation because of her age, it was difficult for her because she had all these plans,” Meda-Schlamel told the Washington Post.

Meda ended her retirement to teach nursing skills at Collin College and two high schools in north Texas, according to her family.

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“She wanted to train other front-line workers to help in this crisis,” Meda-Schlamel said.

Meda tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 14. She was taken to hospital three days later and put on a ventilator. She ultimately died on Nov. 14, with her daughter and husband by her side.

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“It was such a tragedy,” Meda-Schlamel said. “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.”

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Neil Matkin, head of Collin College where Meda worked, thanked her and offered his condolences in a statement to NBC News.

“Professor Meda’s family shared that she was honoured to serve as an instructor at Collin College, and we are sincerely grateful for her service to our students,” he said.

Matkin told staff and students that Meda likely got the virus from a high school student, Inside Higher Ed reports.

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Meda’s family and friends have launched a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of her funeral and medical bills. The campaign also aims to set up a scholarship fund in her name, in hopes of carrying on her commitment to educating the health-care workers of the future.

“Despite the risks, she was living life to the fullest, on her own terms at the time,” her daughter said. She added that her mom ultimately gave her life in an effort to serve her country.

“I hope that students realize the compromise that their teachers are putting themselves in, and recognize that they are themselves, heroes,” she said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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