By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
Registered nurse Theresa Conejo of Bensalem believes she is called to bring medical care to others. Even though she is part of the “floating pool” of nurses at Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia and has worked as a nurse for 25 years, Conejo spends much of her free time volunteering or coordinating health fairs in immigrant, Spanish-speaking or low-income communities in the Archdiocese.
Among the ministries that she is involved with is the Health and Wellness Committee at the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Bensalem, even though she is a member of nearby St. Charles Borromeo Parish. Last week she recruited colleagues to join her at Nazareth Hospital for a health fair Oct. 3.
It is little wonder that when the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) was choosing the 2009 recipient of its Henrietta Villaescusa Award for Community Service, they chose Conejo. She attended the NAHN annual convention in San Antonio, Texas to receive the accolade July 24.
“I felt very honored to be among some awesome nurses who received this award,” said Conejo, a graduate of Frankford Hospital and Pennsylvania State University. “I feel privileged because some of the nurses (named) were real pioneering and educated women. I was really surprised when I got the letter in the mail because I don’t do what I do to win awards. I just feel it’s important to show compassion and help the community.”
The award is given to a Latina nurse who has given her time and talents to improve the health of the Hispanic community.
This is not the only honor Conejo has received. Earlier this year she was nominated as Advocacy Volunteer of the Year by the American Heart/Stroke Association Great River Affiliates. Last year she received the H.M. Satterfield Award from the Bucks County NAACP for her community service dedication.
In 2007, she was chosen by Nursing Spectrum magazine for the Nurse Excellence Award in the community service category.
“I think a lot of what I do comes from working with a lot of African-American and Latina women who come to health fairs to learn their blood pressure or diabetes (level) is sky high,” said Conejo. “I tell them that they need to go to the doctor. They know that they have these diseases but don’t have insurance. They will tell me they can’t afford the medicine or are taking half the pills. I’ll take the time to educate them that they could have a stroke.”
It was the death of a 30-year-old pregnant woman from Bensalem named Tomasa that keeps Conejo vigilantly volunteering. She died of a stroke because her language barrier kept her from getting the medical treatment she needed for toxemia.
After this tragedy Conejo organized a memorial health event called “Salud es Vida,” or “Health is Life,” where 60 women attended and listened to live-saving health information.
“I believe that God has given me this talent and gift as a nurse,” said Conejo. “I have to share this. I could not keep this gift to myself. I am obligated to use it to help others. So every time a person comes to me with high blood pressure or some other warning signs I have to (convince) them to see a doctor.
“I meet so many wonderful people,” Conejo said. “They come from different nationalities and all walks of life. I just think it’s a great experience to help them.”
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.