On May 19, 2002, 27-year-old Mia Helene Sutphin died of a reaction to medication she was taking to combat malaria. At the time, she was volunteering at an orphanage for HIV-infected children in Kenya. Although she had been on this assignment for only 10 weeks, she had learned the names of the 80 children. She would make the rounds to the orphanage’s six cottages to say goodnight to her charges and took extra care with two boys who were too sick to join the others. Mia created a mural on a wall in the boys’ room with figures representing all of the children and named it “Our Children of Nyumbani.” The mural will remain there permanently.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, the fifth in a family of seven children, Mia was raised in Ellicott City, Maryland. In 1992 she graduated from Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, Maryland, where she began to seriously consider a career in nursing. As a teenager, she had volunteered as a candy striper and also helped out in a homeless shelter. These experiences confirmed her decision to pursue a degree in nursing.
Upon graduating from the University of Delaware as a registered nurse in 1996, Mia accepted a position as a school nurse in Aurora, Colorado. While the pay was not as good as in a hospital, Mia wanted to work with children. She also volunteered her time to teach health and sex education to young single mothers, but a desire to volunteer abroad was growing in her.
Her desire to volunteer abroad led her to the Catholic Medical Mission Board. In 1999 she embarked on an eight-month volunteer assignment at a hospital in India. The 300-bed facility was filled with very ill patients who suffered from diseases such as malaria, leprosy and tuberculosis. Despite several illnesses and a five-day hospital stay, Mia’s spirit was never daunted.
When she returned home, she spent two years working at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s neonatal and pediatric intensive care units. She also saved enough money during this period for another assignment abroad. She began working at the orphanage in Kenya, where she contracted the malaria that abruptly shortened her dedicated career.
Mia’s family has created the Mia Sutphin Foundation to help carry on her legacy. For more information, visit http://www.miasutphinmf.org/.