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Kenyan nurse a stand-out on frontline COVID-19 fight in Memphis

Deborah W. Mwazi is an RN at Methodist South Hospital in the Medical Surgical Unit on the 4th floor. The 12-hour grind taking care of both isolated COVID-19 and regular patients is grueling.

“Our job as nurses is to administer treatment and medication,” said Mwazi. “We want to alleviate distress and make patients as comfortable as possible. I am happiest when I know I am helping.”

National Nurses Week 2020 is being observed from May 6-12. This is one of several stories saluting nurses that TSDMemphis.com will feature during the tribute.

Mwazi recalls wanting to work as a nurse as she grew up in her village back in Kenya with her parents and seven siblings. When Mwazi began working, she landed a job at the Kenya Medical Research Institute as a secretary.

“At that time, HIV studies were being conducted to do research for a cure,” said Mwazi. “Even then, I dreamed of being a nurse, but there were very few opportunities.”

Her workload now includes demanding work with COVID-19 patents. Wearing the extra protective equipment, the stress of keeping COVID-19 patients stable and running almost nonstop on 12-hour shifts – all of it is fulfilling to Mwazi as a healthcare professional.

It was in 2004 that her dream of becoming a nurse felt possible. Mwazi won the green card lottery and came to America with her son. Almost immediately, she enrolled at Southwest Tennessee Community College (SWCC) to complete her prerequisites for nursing.

Mwazi worked in a warehouse to care for her son. Childcare was a challenge, but she made the adjustment.

“See, it’s different in the village,” Mwazi said. “When you go to work or school, there are many people who can watch your children. When I came here, there were childcare expenses. It was very strange, very different.”

Mwazi finished SWCC and took a year off and began working at Methodist Hospital. She visited her home village during her break from school and found her mother ailing.

“My mother had been complaining about pain for some time,” Mwazi said. “She was diagnosed with liver cancer and given six months to live. I didn’t go right back, but stayed two months longer.”

When Mwazi returned to Memphis, her mother passed three weeks later. She went back home to bury her.

Mwazi was accepted into the Christian Brothers University nursing program and continued to work fulltime at Methodist Hospital. She graduated with a BSN, landed her dream RN job, and has been employed as a nurse since that time.

Every other year, Mwazi visits her five sisters, who still live in their village. She has also traveled extensively to Germany, Italy and throughout Africa. Mwazi had plans to travel some this year, but those, of course, have been put on hold, indefinitely.

As one who has seen the ravages of COVID-19, firsthand, on both young and old, Mwazi has some advice for residents of Memphis and Shelby County.

“Be cautious when you go outside. Please wear a mask. This thing is not over. Take every precaution seriously because people are still suffering. People are still dying. Please take heed.”


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Three nurses, one deadly virus and a praiseworthy profession

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