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Trauma nurse celebrates diversity

Sometimes the best way to learn is simply to hear about someone else's experiences. Southwestern Michigan College students got a taste of this from hearing the story of Kavita Patel, SMC 2015 nursing graduate. Patel spoke on Feb. 28 as part of the college's Celebration of Diversity week activities. Patel, a trauma nurse of South Bend's Memorial Hospital, knows trauma from personal experience. A native of Tanzania, Patel sports a scar on her neck where her throat was slit with a knife, a reminder that she witnessed her grandparents’ murders during a cattle-grazing attack led by a mob of hundreds on her farm in January 2002. She and other family members were badly beaten and left for dead, their farmhouse burned. She spent three motionless weeks in intensive care. Doctors wanted to remove her from life support, but her father interceded.

"It sounds like an action movie," Patel said, "but it’s true. This experience makes me stronger today. I’m proud to have survived. The doctors had given up on my survival, but I had not. I’m the perfect example of ‘hard times don’t last forever, but hard people do.’ I highly suggest each one of us not give up in our lives." “Going through a terrible trauma in my personal life in Africa changed my views. Instead of harboring ill feelings, I came to the U.S., observed this country’s diversity and saw opportunities that gave me strength. I decided to dust myself off and shine bright. I don’t share my story to get sympathy, but as a tool to educate others, so they learn from my experience, which diversity is all about.”

It’s amazing Patel was born. Her mother aborted the pregnancy expecting a fourth daughter. “They wanted a boy. A dowry for a girl getting married is a big cost in Hinduism,” Patel said. “Africa did not have the best health care system. A few weeks after my mom went through the abortion process, I started moving in her belly. She was taken by surprise, but decided to keep me, nourish me and was happy when I was born.”

Patel's speech shared perspectives on the American immigrant experience. “Immigrants coming from another country have no family support," Patel said.  "You cry on your own. You face struggles on your own, like driving — it doesn’t snow in Africa. I had to fight for everything on my own. There was nobody to guide me. It can be very hard with no one to encourage you. Immigrants do not give up because we can come from nothing and have everything by working very hard.” In addition Patel was able to tell the future nurses in the audience the importance of appreciating diversity for their professions: “In health care, we interact with so many different backgrounds, ethnicities and languages. Some doctors have difficulties expressing treatments to patients. We as nurses participate in that. I became a nurse because I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Patel, who speaks seven languages, earned a business degree and worked in finance and banking before coming to the United States at 25. She’s not sure what her future holds, but she imagines combining her two paths to become a health-care entrepreneur. Her message to SMC students emphasized the importance of diversity especially in the college environment. “College can be very, very hard, "Patel said, "because it was for me." We live in a diverse world with global opportunities. We have to be prepared. Make friends with people who aren’t your age, get to know somebody who doesn’t come from your social class, be open-minded, tolerant, dream big, don’t be afraid to take chances and you will grow. Special thanks to SMC for training me to excel outside college.”