Gilroy nurse heads to Haiti to help rebuild nursing program

Gilroy resident and Hazel Hawkins nurse Aida Eriksson will

For someone who had found out four days before that she would
leave for Haiti in only a week, Aida Eriksson seemed strangely
relaxed.
The 52-year-old nurse of nearly 30 years has helped in other
parts of the world before, actually twice before. As a member of
the National Nurses United and the Registered Nurse Response
Network, Eriksson has traveled the world helping the countries of
Sudan and Sri Lanka when they were in need.
For someone who had found out four days before that she would leave for Haiti in only a week, Aida Eriksson seemed strangely relaxed.

The 52-year-old nurse of nearly 30 years has helped in other parts of the world before, actually twice before. As a member of the National Nurses United and the Registered Nurse Response Network, Eriksson has traveled the world helping the countries of Sudan and Sri Lanka when they were in need.

As of Friday, she’ll have made her first visit to Haiti, three months after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake devastated the country. To go, she had to take off time from work at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital and say goodbye to her three kids.

The local nurse, with the hospital for 11 years, is part of a 10-person team that the nursing organization put together to spend nine days in the devastated country.

The 10 nurses will spend their resources and time in Hopital Sacre Coeur, the largest private hospital in northern Haiti – 80 miles north of Port-au-Prince – RNRN spokesperson Liz Jacobs said.

Eriksson, who lives in Gilroy, will return to the U.S. on April 18.

“It is the first of many teams to be sent to help over the next few months,” said Jacobs.

Nurses will work alongside Haitian nurses and doctors to help the typical 56,000 annual patients that receive care through the hospital, according to the organization. RNRN nurses, similar to Doctors Without Borders, will help with the hospital’s training program, after 150 nursing students were killed in the earthquake.

Eriksson and her group was scheduled as the first to arrive, she said, while she was chosen from nearly 13,000 volunteers.

And despite the unknown devastation of Haiti, helping those less fortunate is something that comes second nature to Eriksson, because she was once in their shoes growing up in the Philippines.

“I know what it’s like to go hungry. I have four brothers and four sisters and we lived in a shack the size of a two-car garage,” Eriksson explained. “My father always said my saving grace was my education and my faith – so I was able to come here because of my nursing and my education.”

Passion always there

Eriksson spent the first 22 years of her life near the city of Nasugbu, a tourist hub in the west Philippines. While there, she discovered her passion for helping others.

That passion always was there. She wanted to be a nurse when, as a first–grader at the time, she saw a sick baby.

“There was only two doctors in my hometown, and I saw this mom who was holding this baby, that had drank some poison and you could see the foam coming from the mouth. The mother was so shocked and was holding the baby waiting for the doctor,” Eriksson said. “But the doctor wasn’t there, he was doing some rounds.”

After school, Eriksson went looking for the mom to see if the baby was OK but she never found her. And the memory has stayed with her.

Eriksson quickly started taking interest in helping others and started studying medicine so she could one day take care of her own family.

“In the Philippines, you don’t have nursing homes so you take care of your own people and we take care of our own elderly,” Eriksson said. “So it’s paramount in every family, if you can, to have a nurse. So you’re almost like the point person if someone gets sick.”

Eriksson left the Philippines in 1980 to find a nursing career in the United States because at the time, the U.S. was looking for foreign-born nurses who spoke English.

She spent one year in Marlboro County, S.C., before moving to California. In 1995, she found a home in Gilroy.

After all the bouncing around and countless hospitals, she joined Hazel Hawkins 11 years ago and found a home. In Hollister, she can not only help people in town, but also around the world.

“It’s just a small town – the people are nice and I can leave, like this. I can leave on my mission,” Eriksson said. “Some of the big hospitals just drain the life out of you, but here I still have energy when I get home. I can still be a mom. I can be nurse and I can still be a mom when I get home.”

Being a mom is still her first priority, she said. Eriksson hopes her three children – Jade, 15, Liam, 17 and Mikul – 20, will follow her footsteps one day.

“Hopefully, one day they will do the same thing,” she said. “I’m getting old for this stuff – I need a reliever.”

The only issue with the quick turnaround is getting everything ready to go, she said. But unlike Sri Lanka six years ago and Sudan three years ago, Eriksson is calm and wasn’t setting any expectations getting ready to go.

“Don’t expect anything, just be open and flexible. Do the best you can and god will take car of the rest,” Eriksson said. “I remember the last time everything was all over the place, and you are wondering what are you going to bring. But now I’m just relaxed. I have two days and I haven’t packed yet.”

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