Recent Media Coverage of the Muriel Gordon FoundationSuffolk Life Newspapers May 10, 2006
Area Nurse Travels The Globe By Michelle Pirraglia
“I never dreamed of reaching this far,” explained Muriel Gordon, a nurse practitioner for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services whose desire to give back has changed the lives of people throughout the world.
Growing up in Jamaica during the 1940s and 1950s, Gordon said her humble beginnings inspired her to better not only herself, but the people around her, as well. “I watched my mother, who was always helping others,” she recalled. “I saw her struggles and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to surprise my mother.’”
Arriving in the United States at the age of 20, Gordon worked as a nurse’s aide, eventually earning her associates degree in nursing from Nassau County Community College in 1969. Although she enjoyed working with patients in a hospital setting, Gordon’s true desire was to bring her expertise to the poorest of the poor. “I really wanted to prove how important it is not just to be a nurse, but to reach out to places far beyond where we are,” she explained.
Gordon’s dreams were realized when, in 1988, she had the chance to travel to China. Collecting enough clothing and medical supplies “to fill an 18-wheeler,” Gordon used her own money to fund the trip, but when she arrived, she was “overwhelmed” by the living conditions. In an effort to make a difference, Gordon continued to span the globe, traveling to places including Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the Amazon, where she would hold health fairs.
Meeting with community members to distribute the medical goods and clothing to those in need, Gordon said what she enjoyed most was the opportunity to learn about the lives of those she was treating. “I still love bedside nursing,” she said. “I love to communicate with my patients. I need to know them so I can know what’s causing their illness and why.”
Between trips, Gordon continued her day job as a nurse at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, and was later inspired to enter a program at SUNY Stony Brook, specializing in pediatrics and earning her degree as a nurse practitioner in 1994. However, little did she know that a trip to Africa would change her life, and the lives of those living in a small village in Nigeria, forever.
“The mortality rate was extremely high, and there was no ideal clinic,” she said of the village, which she first visited in 2002. “There was no good medical care or immunizations being offered.” What concerned Gordon the most was the use of certain “potent herbs” to treat illnesses. “We lost two children because of bush medicine,” she said.
In order to learn more about the community and its problems, Gordon met with Father Sylvester Osigweh and his group of local Catholic missionaries and decided she wanted to give the village of Ifo more than just a health fair. Knowing that she could not fund this endeavor on her own, Gordon founded the Muriel Gordon Foundation, a non-profit organization, in 2003.
“It’s been amazing,” Gordon said of the changes that have taken place in Ifo since her first trip to the village. With the donations from the foundation coming in, Gordon was able to purchase enough medical equipment and supplies to set up a clinic. Property was donated to the missionaries, who, with the help of those in the community, constructed the building. “Everybody pitched in,” she said.
“Every time she does something, it just mushrooms into something bigger,” said Joe Arzola, who works in Central Services for Southside Hospital. Arzola has been coordinating with Gordon to collect discarded hospital equipment that can be sent to struggling areas across the globe. “There’s a lot of times when I think, ‘Someone can use this.’ She makes it worth something, and a lot of times uses her own money to restore things. It’s just a pleasure to see that these things aren’t being wasted.”
While the clinic in the village of Ifo was set to be up and running in June of last year, Gordon received a phone call from Osigweh, stating that the opening would be delayed. “He said the government had come in to look at the building and found it was too big for a clinic,” she recalled. Gordon’s initial fears were allayed when she was told that the government had actually upgraded the facility to a hospital. “That was very exciting news,” she said.
Opening in July of 2005, the hospital has been a tremendous improvement for the community, according to Gordon, who went back this past November to deliver more supplies to the area and train some of the staff at the hospital. “Right now we’re desperately looking for a sonogram machine and any kind of lab equipment,” Gordon said.
In addition to her work in Nigeria, Gordon has also opened up a library in Kenya, with the help of several local students. “I found out about Muriel through one of my students,” said Maria Ostrofsky, an art teacher at Copiague Middle School and advisor of the school’s Builder’s Club. Gordon happened to be the nurse of the student’s grandmother, and the stories of Gordon’s travels had apparently made an impression on the young boy. “We decided that we wanted to collect gently used books to help her with the library,” Ostrofsky recalled, noting that the 25 students in her Builder’s Club headed the efforts. “We collected cases upon cases. Every morning the students went during homeroom to collect books from the classes. They loved doing it.” Taking the books to Kenya, Gordon set up the library, which is now open to the public.
Gordon will embark on her next trip this month, when she will return to her homeland of Jamaica for a surprise visit, supplies in tow. “I feel like I’m on cloud nine,” she said of her upcoming trip. “I love being able to give back to the country where I was born and the village where I was raised. Even though my mother is gone, I know she’ll be smiling.”
Noting that this week is Nurses Appreciation Week, Gordon said she is grateful for the opportunities nursing has given her and emphasized the importance of the nursing profession. “They say nursing is an art, but it’s more than art,” Gordon commented. “I find myself as a teacher, a social worker … Nursing is beautiful, but it doesn’t come easily. You have to give a lot. You cry a little, you laugh a lot and you have to make sure your hugs have a sincere meaning.”
Those interested in making a donation to the Muriel Gordon Foundation can visit www.murielgordonfoundation.org.
Muriel Gordon loves to travel. She has always enjoyed visiting foreign countries and experiencing diverse cultures. Since 1988, she has committed herself to reaching out across boarders and cultures to help communities and children in need.
“I don’t have money, but I have a big heart,” Gordon says. “I’m a spiritual person. I pray for things and then I wait until I get them.” And she gets what others need.
Gordon has traveled the world, her suitcases overflowing with donations of medical supplies, toys, clothing, and candy, which she leaves behind. In 2003, she formed and incorporated the nonprofit Muriel Gordon Foundation “to contribute to the improvement of healthcare and to enhance the quality of life in poverty-stricken communities throughout the world.”
At convention in October, Gordon, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner at the Suffolk County Department of Health and a staff nurse at Southside Hospital in Bayshore, received NYSNA’s Nursing Practice Award. The award recognized the extraordinary nature of Gordon’s contributions…
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Nursing Spectrum 2005 Nursing Excellence Award by Janice Petrella Lynch, RN, MSN
Muriel Gordon, RN, MS, CPNP
Tri-Community Clinic, Amityville, N.Y.
Southside Hospital, Bay Shore, N.Y.
Muriel Gordon, RN, a pediatric nurse practitioner for the Tri-Community Clinic, has committed herself to helping children and their families no matter where they live. In 2003, she formed and incorporated the nonprofit Muriel Gordon Foundation “to enhance quality of life in poverty-stricken communities throughout the world.” Starting out in remote villages, Gordon distributed clothing, toys, and books, and then expanded to visiting pediatric wards in European countries. She single-handedly collected medical supplies and equipment, food, toys, medications, and clothing, and coordinated major health fairs in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya. Gordon is said to be “courageous, with a broad smile; a humble but exciting nurse… who never looks for anything in return for her kindness.” Early this year, a clinic and library were opened in Nigeria in her honor.