Transfused at birth in 1983 with HIV-contaminated blood, Michael, the newborn preemie, would have his life cut short at the age of fifteen by actions taken within hours of being born. The transfusions were provided to the infant without parental authorization for a condition called Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a gastrointestinal disease that mostly affects premature infants and causes destruction of the bowel.
Fatefully, the transfusions transmitted to the tiny new baby would later be found to be the HIV virus, although the virus at that early date had not yet been named, nor had laws regulating transfusions been implemented. There were definitely laws in place, however, that required parental authorization prior to transfusing a minor!
During the last three weeks of Michael’s short life, the medical profession redeemed itself in his mother Emelinda Jackson’s eyes, after fifteen years of her having harbored bitter and intense hatred for doctors, nurses and anyone remotely connected to the industry. Jackson, a career professional in the corporate world, gave up a six year position as the right hand to Smith Barney’s VP of Investments, preceded by 7.5 years negotiating guest rooms for the international market of Marriott Corporation, to be able to stay at home to care for her only son during the last two years of his life. Emelinda was inconsolable about Michael’s suffering and her rage at everything and anything medical was the outcome.
It was not until the final three weeks of Michael’s short life, however, that the passion of Emelinda’s anger was transformed into the passion of what would turn out to be her real career purpose: assisting medical support personnel to find their own careers.
Sharda, a certified nursing assistant, came to Emelinda through the Visiting Nurse Service during the last five weeks of Michael’s life. Emelinda was instantly hostile to her and told her straight from the beginning that she wasn’t welcome in the house. Sharda peacefully told Emelinda repeatedly, “I’m just here to help you…” and for almost two weeks, Emelinda refused to talk to her. The complete selflessness of the CNA who – with three small children of her own for whom she paid childcare while remaining at Michael’s side – insisted on staying overnight for the entire last three weeks of his life. It was there and then that the last two caregivers at Michael’s bedside, Emelinda and her angel CNA, Sharda, bonded in what would turn out to be a lifelong friendship.
As if by some divine plan, just as Michael passed on, Emelinda was recruited by Allen School for the position of Placement Director. Her sales background and experience dealing with multi-cultural individuals melded with the credentials required by the school. Emelinda was asked to consider coming in and setting up an entirely new placement department to meet the ever-exploding numbers of job requests coming in from medical facilities. Newfound respect for medical support personnel – and a pressing awareness of the need to do ever more meaningful work to honor Michael’s memory – impacted on Emelinda’s decision to take the position nine years ago.
Through the professionalism, selflessness and empathy of a dedicated CNA, Michael’s life journey provided impetus and meaning to what would become his mother’s personal commitment to medical career school graduates. Thousands of students have gone on to careers as medical support personnel in facilities all over the country as a result of the placement assistance provided by Emelinda Jackson.
Michael’s spirit remains close at heart at every moment at the Allen School as his mother, Emelinda Jackson, transcending the physical, sees in each graduate loving reflections of her own child, fulfilling Michael’s legacy by helping each graduate to fulfill their own.