God's Presence in Tragedy: The Journey of an APU Alumna Nurse

by Jessica L. Moe

She seemed like she could have been a typical American baby – wholesome and healthy – except for her grayish-blue skin and non-responsiveness. When the 16-month-old Kosovar girl came to the refugee camp, she suffered from severe dehydration and malnourishment. As a victim of the Serbian attack on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1998, she was fortunate compared to many. To her benefit, a well-trained, compassionate nurse wasted no time getting an IV started, a technique the child’s lifeless, hardened skin would likely reject.

“That IV shouldn’t have worked. It was God. God let that IV work,” says APU nursing graduate, Frances (Ouellette ’86) Brown.

Despite the improbability that an IV could help the baby, Brown’s quick thinking and perhaps a small miracle from God brought results. The instant relief from the fluid stabilized the child and suffused color back into her skin. Brown never saw the girl again, but prays that the girl made a full recovery and lives a healthy life today.

Brown knew at nine years of age that she wanted to help people. She was inspired by a family hero, an aunt who cared for her veteran husband, a Purple Heart recipient for being wounded in action. As she grew, Brown decided that she wanted to work with patients directly, but was not interested in medical school. Thus, the field of nursing chose her – it was the best match for her talents and goals. Working at a hospital early in high school confirmed that nursing was close to her heart as she learned what it meant to truly be by the side of suffering patients, comforting them and their families, soothing their pain.

Raised Catholic, Brown describes her family as “very religious, but not spiritual.” She did not truly understand Christ’s sacrifice as a young person. Choosing APU was less about the spiritual environment it offered and more about the quality of its education, particularly in nursing. The cost of a private education was outside Brown’s family’s financial resources, but she decided it was worth working nights to pay for it herself. She worked from 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. so she could attend classes during the day. Despite the challenges, Brown knows that it was a God-driven choice to attend APU. It was the decision that not only gave her the quality education she wanted, but also redirected her spiritual life more than she had ever planned.

“APU opened me to a personal relationship with God,” Brown explains.

The influence of the environment surrounding her finally started to transform her and she began to truly feel God’s power during her senior year. Brown began to comprehend the severe implications of earlier traumas in her own life and how they prevented her from appreciating God’s plan for her life. Understanding the pain caused by her own personal tragedies eventually helped Brown decide to use her nursing expertise to aid in disaster relief efforts, such as those at the Kosovar refugee camp. In addition to that, Brown joined and currently serves on the San Bernardino chapter of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT).

As part of DMAT, Brown traveled to New York City after 9/11 to provide immediate first aid to ground zero workers and victims. Her team was the second one on site.

“It wasn’t hero work,” she says. “It was supporting and assisting the true heroes however we could.”

She recalls the “Blue Tarp Café,” a euphemism for a restaurant that had been blown out by the collapsing twin towers. Only a blue tarp covered the destroyed roof to keep out dust and debris. The DMAT used the location to serve food and assist traumatized rescue workers who needed first aid and emotional support. Brown specifically remembers a fireman serving as a pharmacist in Tower 1 that talked with her for two hours, just needing someone to listen to and reassure him. The pharmacy and his department lost a total of nine men in the tragedy and he could have been one of them. He had just gone off-duty before the attack happened, barely missing the 9/11 shift. When he learned that the efforts went from rescuing live people to recovering bodies and body parts, he could not bring himself to leave the area, insisting on helping far past exhaustion. He felt so completely guilty that he had survived, that he was not there right when it happened, that his family was not going to get that horrific phone call. Brown explains that it was largely her APU training that prepared her to comfort this man. He didn’t need medical advice, he needed relief for his heart and soul. She became that sensitive presence, listening to his concerns and reassuring him that Christ had a plan for him and a reason for his survival.