From Kenya to Wisconsin: How this Nurse Practitioner offers her patients hope
With just $60 in her pocket, Wisconsin Nurse Practitioner Stella Mahaga immigrated to the United States from Kenya at age 21. She often worked two or three jobs at a time until she found her passion in nursing, and chose to specialize in child psychiatry and medication management after working in public health and with HIV-positive moms and babies.
“When I saw the mental health disparities that were really at the core of many health issues, I thought there has to be a better way,” Mahaga said.
She saw those health inequities worsen exponentially during the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the young people she sees are fatigued, and social-distancing measures left them feeling extremely isolated, Mahaga said. Their sleep is disrupted and their schoolwork suffers. And their parents, who are also dealing with loss and depression of their own, don’t understand how to help.
“There are kids since March who have not learned anything. They don’t have internet at home and school-issued technology doesn’t work,” Mahaga said.
Among children of color, she’s seen inequities worsen.
“We’re going to have a whole generation of minority kids who will need to go back to basics,” she said. “There already may have been less structure and parents who were overwhelmed (before the pandemic). They don’t know who they can trust anymore to help.”
Mahaga sees the lack of trust as a major obstacle to race relations in the United States. She often talks to her 9-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son about racism and how they can be perceived in society. She also strives to be a role model for her children and her patients — a reason to not give up hope. She wants them to know there are trustworthy adults, health care providers and organizations fighting to make things better.
“If we have diverse providers and equal opportunities, and then follow that with more outreach, it helps remove blindfolds about what is really going on,” Mahaga said. “We have to be willing to listen, because our community has a lot to say.”
About the Author
Tami Hughes is a public affairs coordinator for Advocate Aurora Health. She attended college at the University of Miami and loves watching her Hurricanes play just about anything. She enjoys cooking and going to concerts with her husband. Her heart is made happy by her children, Neenah and Jack, and her dog child, Rizzo.