Tammy Pesaresi, left, has overcome tumultuous circumstances to get herself back on track to earn a bachelor of science in nursing from Niagara University this May. She credits much of her success to the mentorship of the nursing faculty at NU, especially Dr. Malena Jones.

Tammy Pesaresi has always been drawn to the elderly. When she was 16, her passion led her to apply, and get hired, for a nurse’s aide position that allowed her to care for the nuns at Stella Niagara.

“I loved caring for their aging bodies and helping them take in liquids or some nourishment,” affirmed Pesaresi. “Some people go into nursing because it’s steady employment. For me, it is a calling. Nursing is caring for the mind, body and spirit. I knew this was – and is – my purpose.”

Despite this sense of purpose, Pesaresi fell on troubled times, dropped out of high school and earned a GED. She enrolled in a few classes at Niagara County Community College, but those didn’t go very well either. Her aspirations of becoming a registered nurse were on life support, so to speak.

Pesaresi got married in 1991, had two children and, in 1995, returned to NCCC in hopes of becoming a licensed practical nurse. She graduated with LPN credentials in 1996 and was scheduled to take the state boards that fall.

Her life was back on track – or so it seemed.

The night before Pesaresi was to take the state boards – Oct. 14, 1996 – the unthinkable happened. Pesaresi was working as a charge nurse at Fairchild Manor in Lewiston when she received a phone call informing her that her eldest child, Nicolle, was involved in a catastrophic accident and had been flown to Children’s Hospital by Mercy Flight.

Despite clamorous attempts to save her, Nicolle passed away. She was 5 years old.

Understandably devastated, Pesaresi somehow picked up the pieces, passing the state boards the following January. She had two more children, but became a single mom in 2001. She lived with her children in the low-income projects of Lockport for several years, a tumultuous period that found Pesaresi working part-time and “dreaming of a better life.”

“I knew the way to make a better life for my family was to become a registered nurse,” Pesaresi said. “But there were so many obstacles and failed attempts at trying to go back for that degree that I really never thought it was remotely possible.”

In 2013, Pesaresi was introduced to Peter Pesaresi, the brother of one of her friends from Lewiston-Porter High School. Peter Pesaresi, at one point, asked the then-Tammy Goffin why she never became an RN, to which she laid out the lengthy list of reasons she believed it wasn’t possible.

Peter Pesaresi convinced her to return to NCCC to complete a two-year nursing degree. Empowered by Peter Pesaresi’s support, she attained her associate’s degree, graduating as class president, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and recipient of the Nursing Excellence Award. She was even the keynote speaker at her pinning ceremony

Pesaresi, in 2016, enrolled in Niagara University’s RN-to-BSN program, where she has flourished under the tutelage of Drs. Fran Crosby, Malena Jones and Mary Way. The faculty members have tapped Pesaresi’s passion for tending to the holistic needs of the elderly population by involving her in the construction of a special topics course on end-of-life quality care.

To establish the curriculum, Pesaresi is pairing the insight she’s learned from the clinical classroom setting with knowledge she ascertained while attending an End of Life Nursing Education Consortium conference with Drs. Crosby, Jones and Way last October. The train-the-trainer seminar taught participants how to provide high-quality educational foundations to undergraduate nursing students and healthcare professionals.

“I want to help highlight the importance of establishing courses on end-of-life care as a necessary core nursing requirement,” Pesaresi said.

Set to graduate from NU in May, Pesaresi, now 48, recalls driving past the university’s campus on the way to her childhood home in Ransomville, N.Y., wondering if she’d ever have the opportunity to be a Purple Eagle. She said that when people would speak of Niagara, she thought of its prestige and what an honor it would be to attend as a student.

The door to Niagara was opened to Pesaresi while she was studying at NCCC. Dr. Jones, herself an NCCC graduate who proceeded to earn a BSN from NU, spoke in one of Pesaresi’s classes, explaining her journey.

“I ran up to her that day and wanted to know everything!” Pesaresi exclaimed. 

Many years later, despite her reservations about re-enrolling in college, Peter Pesaresi convinced her to pursue her dream. Once she graduated from NCCC and was accepted into NU, she met with Dr. Jones, who helped make her feel comfortable and has served as a mentor ever since.

“Since the very first day at Niagara, I have been overwhelmed by the warmth of each person on campus, especially the nursing professors,” Pesaresi said. “From professor to student, we care about each other greatly. When the students I am helping to teach have a success or a ‘lightbulb moment,’ I cheer! Beyond the beauty of campus and the warmth of the people here, we have excellence. The majority of students have high standards, which promotes success for all.”

So what lies ahead for Pesaresi?

She is presently employed by Supplemental Health Care on a per diem basis, which could be extended to part- or full-time work. After graduating, she also plans to pursue advanced credentials as either a family nurse practitioner or adult nurse practitioner. Pesaresi would eventually like to explore career options within a hospice setting and potentially obtain palliative care certification. One of her goals is to provide medical care in impoverished countries.

Dr. Jones believes that Pesaresi will have many options to consider, including positions in higher education.

“As a nontraditional student, Tammy has overcome all of the challenges – and several others – that many adult learners face when continuing their education,” noted Dr. Jones. “What makes Tammy stand out from other students is her academic excellence and enthusiasm for the nursing profession. Tammy is passionate about the nursing profession and I can see her eventually bringing that passion into a classroom with the next generation of nursing students.”

Pesaresi’s life is back on track. Her first son, Josh, graduated from the University of Northwestern Ohio two years ago and is working in Michgian. Her other children, Nathaniel and Emillie, reside with her and her husband of four months – Peter Pesaresi – in Youngstown, N.Y. And on May 11, she’ll receive that elusive RN pin from Dr. Jones.

A sense of satisfaction has finally set in. Happiness is no longer unattainable.

“I hope to show others what can be done even after the worst events that can be imagined happen,” Pesaresi said. “If I can change one life, my life has purpose and meaning.”

Because, as Pesaresi says, Niagara University has changed hers.

“My passion for Niagara purple has grown even stronger,” she added. “I am on campus every day, whether it’s attending class, lecturing or even helping in our simulation lab. It has been an incredible semester. It’s bittersweet to know that in a short time I will be attending my pinning and graduation ceremony. I love my Niagara!”

To learn more about Niagara University’s nursing programs, please visit www.niagara.edu/nursing.

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