Mia Helene Sutphin, 27, nurse, volunteer at orphanage in Kenya

May 22, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Mia Helene Sutphin, a former pediatric intensive care nurse at University of Maryland Medical Center whose work as a volunteer with the Catholic Medical Mission Board took her to hospitals and orphanages in India and Kenya, died Sunday of a drug reaction while being treated for malaria at a hospital in Nairobi. She was 27.

Miss Sutphin was born in Cleveland and raised in Ellicott City. She was a 1992 graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, where she began to seriously consider a career in nursing.

In a freshman essay, Miss Sutphin wrote: "I want to do something to help other people, a nurse, a counselor or a teacher. I sometimes wonder if I will be able to accomplish all these things. I also wonder what the years ahead of me will be like."

Ed Donnellan, director of the community service program at Notre Dame Prep, recalled her years at the school, when she volunteered at St. Agnes HealthCare and at a homeless shelter: "She was an extremely compassionate person, and you could see even during her high school years, she had a desire to reach out to people, and nursing was a vehicle to help others."

After earning her bachelor's degree in nursing in 1996 from the University of Delaware, Miss Sutphin moved to Aurora, Colo., where she worked as a high school nurse for two years.

After returning to Ellicott City in 1998, she took a nine-month volunteer trip to Patna, India, sponsored by the Catholic Medical Mission Board. Assigned to a hospice established by Mother Teresa, she nursed the sick and terminally ill, as well as teaching young nursing students.

"She'd tell me about the children, and she was so concerned about them," said Meara W. Strain, a childhood friend from Clarksville, who was to have met Miss Sutphin in Ghana this week for a vacation.

"She was always asking, `What can I do? What can I give?' Mia's light touched so many people," she said.

In 1999, Miss Sutphin returned to Baltimore and went to work in the neonatal intensive care unit at University of Maryland Medical Center, transferring a year later to the pediatric intensive care unit.

"She was a wonderful patient advocate and fit in very well with the staff," said Mary Jo Simke, who hired her and is senior partner in the pediatric unit.

But Miss Sutphin's dream of serving in Africa led her to accept another unpaid assignment. In February, she was sent by the mission board to Nyumbani Orphanage near Nairobi, home to abandoned HIV-infected children.

"She had dreamed of going on another mission assignment and even though she had made an incredible impact with her work here, we knew she would have regretted not going. Her death is a real loss, and we are all so saddened by the news," Mrs. Simke said.

"She was in the medical department and nursed the children and gave them encouragement and support during their illness," said Portius Lumiti, chief manager of the orphanage.

"All of the 79 children knew Mia by name and that shows that she had a great rapport with them. Her death is a very, very big blow to us and we are heartbroken," Mr. Lumiti said in a telephone interview from Nairobi, Kenya's capital.

The Rev. Christopher Whatley, pastor of St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville, has known Miss Sutphin since she was a child.

"She said to me, `I think I have other things to do right now and that is working in Africa and in an orphanage. That's where God leads me,'" the priest recalled. "She was so altruistic and humble and never wanted any attention. I told her family, `God gave you a child, and you're giving back a saint.'"

Miss Sutphin was an accomplished hiker.

She was a communicant of the chapel at Trinity Parochial School in Ellicott City.

Plans for services were incomplete yesterday.

Miss Sutphin is survived by her parents, Sandra and Albert C. Sutphin Sr. of Ellicott City; two brothers, Michael Sutphin of Ellicott City and Albert C. Sutphin Jr. of Richmond, Va.; four sisters, Sally S. Hebner of Marriottsville, Julie S. Nelms of Nanticoke, Allison Mary Sutphin of London and Caroline Sutphin of Ellicott City; her maternal grandfather, Samuel D'Angelo of Catonsville; and a special friend, Aaron Mooney of Baltimore.

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