Front-Line Stories

Giving Back to Medical Students and Doctors During a Health Pandemic Comes Naturally to This Husband-Wife Duo

Giving Back to Medical Students and Doctors During a Health Pandemic Comes Naturally to This Husband-Wife Duo

It’s a team effort for an amazing cause – he wraps, counts and holds the material for cutting while his wife sews, pleats, folds and assembles. Together, current and former Adtalem Global Education colleagues David and Phyllis Stowe are producing face masks for those in need during the current COVID-19 healthcare pandemic. Their latest batch – hot off the sewing press – will be immediately shipped to Miami and loaded onto a plane headed for Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) and American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) medical students leaving the Barbados and Sint Maarten islands this Saturday. The masks will be handed out for added protection on the flights and can be used by students once they return home.

“We started thinking about this group coming out of the Caribbean and the immediate need and we thought – let’s do it!” In a three-week period, the couple has produced close to 100 pieces, with each mask taking about three to four hours to complete. “It’s not a factory job but it has a rhythm to it,” jokes David. “I’m working 24/7 in my role and she’s right behind me on a sewing machine for four to six hours a day. She loves sewing and crocheting – things she had to leave while she worked in the corporate world.”

Donations Domestically and Abroad

Along with other church members, the Stowes first donated masks to doctors at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Then they sent donations to medical and veterinary students at Adtalem institutions in the Caribbean, something they’re doing again this week.

A senior manager with Adtalem’s Enterprise Safety & Security group based in the Chicagoland area, David and his team are developing COVID-19 protocols for the continuity of operations and helping to organize chartered flights from the Caribbean, where many islands have closed borders to international travel. His other half, who retired a few years back, played an integral role in facilitating relations with the local governments regarding regulatory, compliance, and accreditation agencies for Adtalem’s Caribbean institutions – RUSM, AUC and Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM).

Searching for Ways to Give Back

Becoming a twosome at George Williams College, David and Phyllis tied the knot on graduation day and headed to her native homeland of Aruba to start their lives together. And they stayed put for the next 23 years there, raising their two sons. David worked for an insurance company and Phyllis worked for a youth organization and they both became active in their community. “Giving back is very important to us – we want to be involved,” David said. “We were involved in a community that is not similar to what you typically find in suburbia.”

When it was time for a change, the couple moved and spent 10 years in Tampa, Florida before David joined DeVry, a former Adtalem institution, and headed back to Illinois – coming full circle to his Chicago roots. He just celebrated his diamond anniversary with the company. The Stowe sons and their families live in Connecticut and Colorado. And their daughters-in-law, both in education, are trying to juggle virtual teaching of their students while teaching their young children. “We like to be supportive any way we can so we shipped some of our masks in their direction too.”

Finding the Fundamental Goodness in Others

The Stowes’ extensive family lives globally with one relative in Italy on lockdown but thankfully healthy, another in the Netherlands and others back in Aruba. They remain actively engaged in their church outreach, donating and supporting those in need. “We all have the same fundamental belief of treating each other like we would like to be treated. We believe in the fundamental goodness people and want to help them.” David and Phyllis have lent a hand during many disasters and crises – domestic and international. And now is no different.

“We’re supposed to practice social distancing. And when people see you with a mask on, it’s automatically off-putting and people take a step back,” David explained. “That’s good – that’s what we want. Our masks serve to enhance that.”

Staying Connected

While being cautious, David also said it’s important for him to stay somewhat social. His church began providing services through a video communications system that has attracted more members than their bricks and mortar location. But he seeks more connection so he’s now engaging strangers while maintaining social distancing. “You can greet them, make eye contact and have a conversation about the weather. When I’m out, I try to keep reaching out to someone new.”

As for homelife, Phyllis is David’s primary socializer. “She reaches out to the kids and grandkids and the family abroad and then she shares the conversations she’s had throughout the day. It keeps us connected.” And when there’s free time, David enjoys exercising and going outside. “I can see out my window,” he laughs. “I have birds and squirrels in the yard.” 

Supporting the Adtalem Community

For now, aside from the occasional outside contact, David and Phyllis will continue supporting others by producing face masks using a how-to website they found. “I think we have a pretty good system.” They have implemented a few modifications from the original instructions based on feedback from the medical community:

  • Substituting the elastic used for earpieces with four ties, each 12” long, comprised of half an inch of bias tape sewn flat
  • Using a 10” of cloth square – 100% cotton fabric, washed in hot water and dried on a hot setting and then handled “cleanly”
  • Wrapping a batch of 12 masks in plastic wrap for further handling and distribution

The couple expects demand will increase and they are ready to fulfill orders. In the interim, David joked, his wife will continue to “keep me in stitches.”

Appreciative and Thankful

We appreciate your commitment to the continued well-being of our Adtalem community and support during this unprecedented time. Please visit RUSMRUSVMAUC and Chamberlain University websites for the latest updates regarding COVID-19.

We thank and honor all healthcare workers through our caregiver Wall of Gratitude.

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