When Rosa Berry makes a promise, she keeps it.
The bilingual neurology nurse practitioner at Novant Health Neurology in Shallotte, North Carolina, originally from Puerto Rico, has a passion for helping members of her Latino community – “mi familia,” as she refers to them – when they are at their most vulnerable.
Berry and her husband moved to the coast two years ago from a heavily Latino area of Michigan. While working at Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital, she met a Hispanic family in crisis. The 21-year-old daughter had sustained a traumatic brain injury in a fall and was not going to survive. “Being able to speak the language was so important for this family and also understanding Latinos’ beliefs on sickness and death,” she said.
“I promised the mother that I would be with her daughter until the end – whatever that means,” she said. “Those were the words that came to my mouth that moment. And I'm telling you: I was with her through the hard time when we needed to make a decision regarding taking her off the respirator and deciding if the family wanted to donate her organs. I was blessed to be with her from admission to the ICU through organ procurement.
“I attended her funeral, too,” she continued. “And the mom came to me and said, ‘You promised me you will be with her until the end. And here you are.’”
But before that, there was much more Berry did for this family in their darkest hour.
‘Get her ready to go to heaven’
“The mother said, ‘I want to give her a bath.’ The daughter was already deceased, but the mother needed to clean her – her only daughter – and make her pretty and presentable. So, I said to the doctors, ‘Please, please, please give this mother the opportunity to give her a bath and get her ready to go to heaven.’ The doctors did not understand why it was so important, and I was blessed to be able to help them understand. And the mom felt pride in being able to donate her daughter’s organs.”
This wasn’t the first promise Berry made and kept. Before her father died in 2003, he told her that her mission was to help those in need. “I said, Papa, I will do that. This is what I need to do. This is what I will do,” she recalled. She finished her nurse practitioner degree in 2006 and has been helping people ever since.
She knows what it is to be in need of medical assistance and not fully understand the language. “It is scary,” she said. “You’re listening to people and you're trying to figure out what they’re saying. And you just grab pieces of information.”
She had recently moved to the United States – 33 years ago – when she went into labor. Her husband, a Michigan native, was working at the Ford Motor Company in Puerto Rico when they met. Shortly after they married, he was transferred to the company’s headquarters in Michigan.
“Can you imagine?” she asked. “Understanding only certain words the doctors are saying and delivering a baby?”
It’s not just language barriers Berry helps bridge in coastal North Carolina. There are cultural differences, too. A lot of Hispanic patients want to try an herbal remedy before trying a prescription drug. Berry doesn’t argue, as long as the remedy they want to try can’t harm them. But she asks them to promise that, if the home remedy doesn’t work, they’ll try what she recommends. It’s all about compromise, she said.
“Family is very, very important in our culture. And so, I always try to incorporate the family because I know how important it is for me,” she said. “Sometimes, I need to explain to a family member that a certain treatment is safe. I tell them, ‘It's not me telling you what to do. We are a team.”
While Berry works in a neurology office, the staff throughout the Novant Health system in Brunswick County knows they can call on her if they someone to interpret for a Spanish-speaking patient. “Everyone knows,” she said, “if they need help, I’m here.”