hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

January 4, 2012

Teacher-turned-nurse travels the world to help the sick

By Alex Lippa
alippa@hgazette.com

It's a problem many people face when heading into retirement. What to do with all of the free time that one suddenly has?

Most people move somewhere warm or just take the time to relax at home. After retiring from Northern Essex Community College after 32 years teaching English as a Second Language, longtime Haverhill resident Jane Thiefels took a different path.

"I remember sitting in my driveway after a round of errands," Thiefels said. "I just started thinking, what am I going to do once I retire? Then the thought flashed across my mind."

Thiefels had always admired disaster relief workers and wanted to find a way to help people once she retired. The first thing that popped into her head was nursing. In 2006, Thiefels decided to sign up for the nursing program that is offered at Northern Essex. She took one class a semester for two years as she finished up her teaching career, and received her associate of science degree in nursing in 2008.

"Once I got my degree, I reached another dilemma," she said. "I didn't want to work 40 hours a week as a nurse and be the lowest person on the totem pole."

Thiefels had another wish for her retirement, as well. She wanted to travel the world. She decided to combine her two retirement wishes. She got involved with the International Medical Relief Organization and prepared herself to go on trips around the world to put her nursing skills to use.

Thiefels went to Peru for one month and took two week-long ventures to Kenya in 2010 and to Senegal this past year. She travelled with a group to remote villages in each of the countries and International Medical Relief set up a clinic in one of the villages.

People flocked in from surrounding villages to get the medical care they could not get where they live. Thiefels gave out vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella, and yellow fever. She treated people who had malaria. She also took the opportunity to educate the natives.

"We take aside groups of people and talk to them about water purification," Thiefels said. "We put water in clear bottles. When we leave, we want to leave people with basic health knowledge."

During her last trip, Thiefels received some donations from home to help the children in the villages of Senegal. Thiefels received more than 100 pounds of medical supplies such as bandages and vitamins from Anna Jaques Hospital, Lawrence General Hospital and the Whittier Rehabilitation Center.

Thiefels has toured the world as a tourist, but traveling to help people in need is a completely different experience, she said.

"When you are a medical person, you have a very quick and easy way to get to know people," she said. "They come to you and they relay their whole story. They tell you who they are and all about their life. You bond with them in a way no tourist can ever do. When you leave the country, you really feel like you've been there."

Thiefels already has her next trip in mind. She hopes to go with the International Medical Relief Organization to India and visit the Mother Teresa House. She hopes to take that trip sometime in 2012.

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