Nolan community rallies to pray for alumna Nina Pham, Dallas nurse stricken with Ebola

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

October 17, 2014

Dear Lord,

Today we recognize Nina as a nurse, a family member, a friend, a strong woman, and a child of God. Her selfless work, loyal friendship, courageous attitude, and her devotion to her faith have been a blessing in our lives and those she helps. We pray for her quick recovery from this terrible virus. We pray that those suffering from this illness around the world find strength, healing, and peace in their faith. Amen

— Monica Cecero Nolan ‘06

A Scriptural Rosary prayer service was held for Nina Pham, the first person to be infected with the Ebola virus on U.S. soil, at her alma mater, Nolan Catholic High School, on Oct. 16. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / North Texas Catholic

Sarah Strittmatter had a feeling her best friend was in trouble. The Dallas Morning News story about a nurse diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a patient who died from the illness, didn’t mention the young woman’s name. But the details all pointed to Nina Pham, her BFF (best friend forever) since both were third-graders at St. Rita School in Fort Worth.

“I just knew it was Nina,” recalls Strittmatter who graduated from Nolan Catholic High School in 2006 with Pham — the first person to contract Ebola in the United States. “It said she went to church at Our Lady of Fatima and graduated from TCU. I had a feeling it was her. Then I confirmed it.”

Initial shock and worry soon turned into action. On the computer, she found dozens of supportive messages for Pham and her family posted on a Nolan alumni social network site. Together with fellow Nolan graduate, Brian Roberts, Strittmatter decided to set up a fundraising page.

To date this Internet effort has raised $80,000 to help cover expenses that go beyond the 26-year-old’s medical care. Many of the contributions from well-wishers are $10 and $20.

“I think it’s incredible,” Strittmatter says. “The outreach from this community is stunning.”

Support for the nurse and Catholic school graduate was evident during a prayer service held Oct. 16 at Nolan for Nina and all those suffering from the Ebola virus. Approximately 100 people who attended the vigil recited three decades of a Scriptural Rosary and heard a special prayer written by Nolan classmate, Monica Cecero, who now lives in Chicago.

Sister Rosemary Stanton, SSMN, pastoral minister at Nolan, said the gathering was a time for shared prayer and heartfelt gestures of solidarity.

“The Word of God speaks to us of God’s healing power and work through Jesus,” she told the assembly. “Let us remember, in a special way, the health workers, and first responders who care for those who are ill.”

Sr. Rosemary began working at Nolan when Pham was a senior and trained her to become an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. Pham is remembered by one of her teachers as a sociable young woman who was really engaged in her theology studies.

Pham is shown in this photo with her dog, Bentley, who is being cared for by animal control officers in Dallas while she is in the hospital. (Photo taken from “Help Nina Pham” Community Facebook page)

“Nina is from a very religious, devout family for whom the Catholic faith is really important,” Sr. Rosemary said. “Caring for others, outreach, service and a strong faith life are something we teach. As Nina got older, she carried that with her.”

As soon as the name of the Dallas healthcare worker infected with Ebola was released, the phones at Nolan began ringing with calls from media outlets around the world. Communications Manager Annette Kearns fielded calls from CNN, the Associated Press, the Daily Mail in London, and the Saigon News among others.

But the biggest response came from alumni who flooded the Nolan Facebook page with words of encouragement and support.

“They all just mobilized when they heard the news and wanted to do something,” Kearns said.

During an address after the prayer service, Brian Roberts, a 2007 alumnus, talked about the bond Nolan graduates feel for one another. Roberts barely knew Pham when she was a Nolan student but that didn’t stop him from responding to her need.

“When I found out Nina was in trouble and her family needed help, I realized something needed to be done,” said the Internet fundraising drive organizer. “She’s going to need money to get her life back on track when she gets out of the hospital. Everything she owns has been destroyed.”

The power of prayer and financial support are two ways friends can help Pham, Roberts suggested.

Classmate and fellow nurse Mary Strysky said the Nolan class of 2006 was a very tight-knit group who enjoyed spending time together.

“We have a class group on Facebook and we’re all praying for her,” she explained. “Everyone is very concerned.”

Strysky said she believes growing up Catholic impacts the way you view life and treat people.

“To become a nurse you have to have an element of compassion,” she continued. “That she cared for him (Duncan) speaks to her courage, compassion, and skills as a nurse.”

Pham recently earned certification to treat critically ill patients.

As former classmates and teachers prayed for her recovery, Pham was airlifted from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas to a National Institutes of Health Isolation unit in Maryland. Doctors there listed her condition on Oct. 17 as “fair.”

Strittmatter said she contacted Pham briefly before the journey. She is very thankful for the help she receives and tries to stay positive.

“It’s hard knowing she’s so far away but I think she’ll receive excellent care there,” Strittmatter added. “We need to pray for her. She’s not out of the woods yet.”

Sarah Strittmatter had a feeling her best friend was in trouble. The Dallas Morning News story about a nurse diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a patient who died from the illness, didn’t mention the young woman’s name. But the details all pointed to Nina Pham, her BFF (best friend forever) since both were third-graders at St. Rita School in Fort Worth. “I just knew it was Nina,” recalls Strittmatter who graduated from Nolan Catholic High School in 2006 with Pham — the first person to contract Ebola in the United States. “It said she went to church at Our Lady of Fatima and graduated from TCU. I had a feeling it was her. Then I confirmed it.”

Published (until 10/17/2114)
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