One of the top award winners of the CIA Medical 2018 Scholarship honoring healthcare heroes is Gabriel Curtis Martinez, a student entering Colorado Mesa University to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Gabriel’s winning essay focuses on his Nana and is a glimpse into the hardships she overcame throughout her life while still making a positive impact on those around her. As a mother and grandmother, she has helped members of her family face numerous health challenges, and as a nurse, she touches the lives of her patients through compassionate care and warm attentiveness.
We are deeply touched by Gabriel’s story and his determination to use his experiences to help others. Gabriel’s Nana is a true inspiration as a healthcare hero who supports her family and entire community.
CIA Medical is proud to present Gabriel’s 2018 Scholarship Award winning essay on his Nana.
A Legacy Maker
An essay by Gabriel C. Martinez
The woman I call “Nana” is my hero. She is a Godly woman who has earned many people’s love and respect, including my own. She has worked the past 16 years as a nurse at the VA Hospital and gets to care for our nation’s Veterans during the end of their lives. She will be turning 70 years old this year and still works full-time. She honors the patients she cares for by giving them the best care she possibly can, going above and beyond and many have claimed that she saved their lives. She doesn’t have to do little things like help a person shave, but she will take the time to help them because she knows it helps lift their spirits and make them feel as “normal” as they can while she is caring for them. I have no idea how many people she has comforted into eternity at the end of their lives or how many of their family members she has given hope to, I just know that she has been a blessing to more than I can count. She is also a wound care nurse and enjoys the added responsibility of being on the Wound Team and taking care of patients wounds. She even goes out of her way to help other co-workers. Recently, she saw a need in a fellow co-worker, a CNA who was going to school to become a nurse, but was a single mother struggling to pay tuition, bills, and support her young daughter. My Nana saved her own money for a year and contacted the school which this young lady was attending and created a scholarship to help her get through school. She never sought any recognition for doing this, in fact, she kept it a secret, even to her superiors at work until she had to ask for the day off work to go make the scholarship presentation. By all the accounts of me telling you about her now, you would never know that she had everything going against her in life. You would never guess the adversity she has had to overcome to become a nurse.
“She doesn’t have to do little things like help a person shave, but she will take the time to help them because she knows it helps lift their spirits and make them feel as “normal” as they can while she is caring for them. I have no idea how many people she has comforted into eternity at the end of their lives or how many of their family members she has given hope to, I just know that she has been a blessing to more than I can count.”
At nine years of age, my Nana’s Dad committed suicide and her mother became an alcoholic. Her mom’s alcoholism became so destructive when she was about twelve years old that she had to go to the bars with her mom and wait around until her mom was drunk and ready to go home, then she would drive her mom home. It was the only way of keeping her mom safe. At this point in her life she was without the influence of a Dad and a Mom, but she worked hard in school and finished high school. She ended up meeting an older man and married him and had their first child, a son. He was born with damage to his kidneys and had to be sent to Children’s Hospital where he and my Nana spent the first year of his life. Only one kidney was able to be saved, but he did survive. She had a daughter a couple of years later, but by this time her husband was very absent and her marriage eventually ended in divorce. During this time of her life, she struggled with alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, and depression. She struggled deeply as life was difficult for her. She made a decision, at this point in her life, to change the legacy of her family. She decided she would be the instrument of change and not simply bow to the negative pressures and circumstances in her life. She would make a change that was good for her family, give them a new legacy with everything she did. She didn’t want her son and daughter to remember her as an alcoholic or leave them by suicide like her own father had done. She wanted to be the instrument for change and she began to be that inspiration to her family and to those around her. She drew on this strength when her kids were very young and she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which she fought and overcame. She always did the best she possibly could to care for her family and worked in many different fields to support her family, but she really enjoyed the medical profession. The closest she got to being a nurse in her young, professional life, was being a dental assistant which she did on and off for years.
When her son was in his early teen years, he began to be very rebellious. He ran away from home and got involved in alcohol, drugs, and everything any parent wouldn’t want to see their child be involved with. Instead of allowing this to destroy her family, she joined a Tough Love group and sought support and soon was the leader of the group supporting others. This led her to become a counselor at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. She loved her son through everything, allowing him to face the consequences of his actions when they were wrong and was his biggest supporter whenever he did “right”, until he finally came home and turned his life around. He gained his GED and worked as a computer software designer until his death.
At the young age of 27 years old, Nana son’s kidney completely failed, but that didn’t stop Nana! She was tested and found that she was a match to her son and could give her son a kidney. This kidney donation gave my uncle five of the best years of his life, but the kidney did eventually fail when he was 32 years old. My Nana nursed her son at home until he died. I was very young when my Uncle died, but I do remember that Nana used this tragedy in her life, to inspire her and others around her. She decided that she loved nursing and had wanted to be a nurse since she was very young, but had never had the opportunity to become one. She decided to go back to school at the age of 52. She joined an advanced paced nursing program and worked her way through the program in one year. My mom was homeschooling us kids at the time and I remember Nana coming over for “tutoring” in math (my mom’s favorite subject) almost everyday after she finished her classes for the day and drove the hour or more home from school. She would tell us that if she could go back to school at age 52, anyone could go to school. Her determination and sheer willpower along with her faith in God helped her succeed through that year! She has no idea how much her encouragement has meant to me in my own schooling journey.
When I was sixteen, my brother’s wife, who was only 23 years old, was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. They had only been married five years and had been childhood sweethearts. This tragedy in my brother’s life and in my family’s was beyond difficult. My sister-in-law lived for two days after the accident and my Nana stayed with my brother all night long the first night, never leaving his side. My Nana was incredibly gentle but diligent to encourage my brother to forgive the driver of the vehicle that had killed his wife, but also encourage him to mourn. She went to visit my sister-in-law’s mother weekly, and sometimes more often than that, because she had an understanding of what loosing a child is like and how difficult it can be. She even went to the court hearings to meet the guilty man. Though she showed the loss, she also showed such strength that allowed others to lean on her during this devastating time.
“I hope that I can make Nana proud and show her that I have put my mind to gaining my degree and finishing the job well, just like she did.”
I have been through hardships and adversity in my own life, but nothing like my Nana. The one main difference is that I had Nana there with me through my hardships. My sister and I developed severe scoliosis when we were in our teen years and had to deal with a lot of pain which eventually led to us having major back surgeries. I had mine with I was 17 years old, two days after I graduated from high school. My Nana named herself my “night nurse” (just as she had done for my older sister when she had her surgery) and stayed with me every night I was in the hospital so the rest of the family could be there for me during the days and not miss any sleep. I was in Children’s hospital for 5 days and she watched over me, encouraged me, loved on me, and prayed for me all through my hospital stay. Because of her nursing background, she was able to catch things in my stay at the hospital that could have become a big problem for me, but because of her diligence they didn’t. One night while I was in the hospital, my vein quit working but the IV continued to flow. I had a bandage wrapped around the area so it wasn’t very noticeable to anyone. My hand became very swollen but because Nana was diligently checking me over all night long, she noticed something wasn’t right and got the nursing team to fix things right away. On another night, she caught that my catheter was not draining properly and got help before it could became a problem for me. After I went home, during the long year of healing, she was always there nursing me when needed or just keeping me company. I am now doing very well and am going to be attending college this fall to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I hope that I can make Nana proud and show her that I have put my mind to gaining my degree and finishing the job well, just like she did.
My mom has had to have three back surgeries to fix an injury to her pelvis. During the healing for all three my Nana was there to stay the nights in the hospital with my mom, again so the family wouldn’t loose sleep and could be with her during the days. The most recent surgery was in February of this year and it was a “revision” surgery. The screws on the right side of her pelvis became loose and were backing out. The fusion that was supposed to take place, hadn’t happened, so she had to have a third surgery. This one was more invasive, painful, and restricting. She was restricted to not put any weight on her right leg for 12 weeks. My Nana knew the difficulty it was going to be for my mom and my family, so she arranged her work schedule to allow her to care for my mom all day long while all of us other family members were at work. She would be at our house at 8:00 am to care for my mom until 2:30 when she had to go to work, then she would go to work and diligently care for the needs of the Veteran’s until 10:30 at night. She would go home and cook food that mom could eat with her nauseous stomach, like homemade chicken noodle soup or mashed potatoes. Then she would be back at our house the next morning, doing laundry, cleaning, giving my mom showers, helping her dress, keeping her company, and encouraging her in the darkest days of pain and healing. Mom is slowly doing better and needs less care, but Nana has continued to come to our house and take my mom for “walks” as she tries to put more and more weight back onto her leg and is helping her to rehabilitate. I am amazed by and so very thankful for my Nana. She is almost 70 years old and is continuing to work hard, show compassion, and be an inspiration to anyone who knows her.
My Nana has seen the “success” in her life that she wanted to see. It may not look like other people’s success because she is far from rich monetarily, but the one thing she wanted to do in life, she succeeded to do. Her families legacy has been changed-my life has been changed. Alcoholism and suicide are not something that permeate the lives of her family members and when she does get called on by someone in need, she is there to help pull others out of alcoholism and love them through the struggles of life that lead to suicide. She has blessed me with a new family legacy of hope for the future, determination to change, not only my life for the better but everyone around me also. She became a nurse against all odds and is the best nurse anyone could ask for. Anyone who is lucky enough to have her to nurse them and care for them, is blessed. This woman I call “Nana” is my hero.
About the Author: Gabriel Curtis Martinez
Gabriel Curtis Martinez is a student at Colorado Mesa University and is pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has always loved math and science and excelled in his studies in school as well as on his ACT test. When he was a child, he would play with his Legos and K’nex toys and wonder what it would be like to grow up and be able to design and engineer life size objects. During high school, he had the privilege to take a STEM class at his local college and found out that he loved what a career in engineering would be like.
It wasn’t until he had his own major back surgery that he realized he was very thankful for the tools surgeons and doctors have available to them to help people like him to live a life that is healthy and pain free. Gabriel believes the options are limitless to what he can do with his Mechanical Engineering degree, and would like to design and create medical devices, prosthetics, or medical tools to help people be pain free or assist them to be able to have freedoms physically that they may not otherwise have.
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