Nurse who came out of retirement to train others dies from COVID-19


DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — Iris Meda had been a nurse for 35 years, but she came out of retirement when the pandemic struck. The 70-year-old taught nursing skills at Collin College just outside of Dallas, and she and her family believe it was the outreach that exposed her to the coronavirus.

“I love that she would be this person for so many people, without seeking glory,” said Selene Meda-Schlamel, Iris’ daughter. “It was all so quietly done.“

A new silence fills Selene’s home this holiday season. The woman she called best friend, truest confidant and mom is no longer alive to fill the world with soul and song. Iris was native to New York with a heart the size of Texas. The family shared many home videos and photos with NewsNation in which Iris can be seen dancing and singing in the car with friends. The lifetime nurse of 35 years found the best medicine in melody.

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“She retired in January,” said Selene. “She was just tired. She said she was tired of the rigor of it all. She had lots of plans! We had lots of plans together.”

But as January turned into March, and spring turned into a global pandemic, Iris knew the world, and future frontline workers, were in need of her knowledge. So she returned to the workforce and taught nursing students at Collin College in McKinney, Texas.

“She knows exactly when she was exposed,” said Selene. “She actually kept a journal that has the exposure date, the reporting date, and her symptom dates.”

One of her students tested positive for COVID-19, and eventually so did Iris. Her deteriorating health quickly landing her in the hospital.

“The last words that she says to me are, ‘I’m going to fight this, I’m New York strong,’ and that was the last thing my mother said to me. She was intubated on October 28th. and she passed away on November 14th.”

We sat with Selene on the floor of her living room as she thumbed through old family albums, sharing stories of her mother—whose beginnings were so humble her first bed was an ironing board. To her final days giving her time, resources and life to future healthcare heroes.

“She really was so selfless,” said Elizabeth Schlamel, her 15-year-old granddaughter. “I always knew she was special and caring, but that makes me love her even more…if that’s possible!”

The family just wishes that selflessness didn’t mean losing her entirely.

“That’s exactly what we’re going through,” said Selene. “That empty seat at the table with our Nana, our best friend, our anchor. And she’s just…she’s gone.”

And that quiet gift she gave the world—already being put to use, loud and clear, for all of us to see.

“And that level of grace is just grand. It’s just unspeakably grand,” said Selene. “And I’m so thankful to be her daughter.”

Selene tells NewsNation she knows she is not alone in this loss in 2020. For her mother, other frontline workers and those who have lost their battle to the virus, she asks that Americans take coronavirus seriously. She says the pandemic should call for eager participation from us all.

A GoFundMe page has been set up in Iris Meda’s name to help pay for funeral expenses and to set up a scholarship for future healthcare workers.

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