BERKS, Pa. | In 1971, Theresa Adams became a registered nurse. It was a dream she had realized from a young age, after a tragic turn of events.
As she recalls, “My older sister was hit by a car while crossing the street to go see Popeye on television. The car was going 80 miles an hour in a 35 miles per hour zone.”
The accident left her sister almost completely paralyzed on one side. Theresa was too young to visit while she recovered, so she would stand outside the hospital and wave, in awe of the nurses who cared for her big sister.
And so began her long nursing career. Theresa worked in hospitals and taught at nursing schools. She was the head nurse at Wilson High and developed a certification program at Alvernia.
Her own education was continuous, earning a doctorate in leadership. Even though she retired, Theresa never let her license lapse. She was working as a volunteer in 2020 when it all suddenly stopped.
When the first case of coronavirus reached Berks County, many of her former student nurses reached out.
“I kept hearing about how stressed they were and how they didn't have the correct PPE,” remembers Adams.
Theresa wrote letters to legislators asking them to keep frontline workers and their patients safe. And in those early days, she saw the harsh reality of the virus. Her good friend's husband died from COVID, and the loss left her searching for a way to help.
“I knew how hard it had hit her family and I felt terrible that I really couldn't do anything. I couldn't visit with her. I couldn't do anything for her children. I just felt so overwhelmed that I had to do something,” Adams recalled.
So she started sewing.
About 50 masks a week to start, then that number climbed to the hundreds. So far, she's made close to 8,000.
“The true heroes are all those healthcare workers who were in the throes of something that they really didn't know how to handle, the separation they had with their families. Many of them rented campers or hotel rooms or motel rooms to stay and for weeks on end, months on end. It was very stressful I think for them. That caused me a lot of stress because I felt guilty sitting here in my home, because I felt I should be out there," says Adams.
"But I knew at that point that I was not the one that needed to be there, that I could support them in other ways.”
The more masks she made, the more requests that came in. And when the call went out for nurses to administer shots at our vaccine clinics, Theresa answered that one too. It's where you'll now find her three days a week. Giving, doing, sharing what she can without a second thought.