Remembering Cyndi

Published 10:45 am Saturday, April 10, 2010

For the Wiese family of Albert Lea, Hyderabad, India, may not have been a top vacation destination, but it is a place to which they hope to return someday.

The family traveled to India in January for the formal dedication of the Cyndi Wiese Women’s Health Initiative Clinic.

“The impact of her life is being felt over there,” said her oldest son, Tyler Wiese, who is a second-year law student at the University of Minnesota.

Email newsletter signup

Cyndi Wiese was a nurse practitioner before cancer took her life five years ago. While she was battling cancer, she and her husband, Steve, became aware of a clinic started in India by a co-worker of Steve’s, a fellow physician in the Albert Lea Medical Center emergency room named Nasreen Hussain.

Hussain, who worked at Albert Lea Medical Center for eight years, established a walk-in medical clinic 17 years ago in her home community of Hyderabad.

Hussain returns to her home country every six to eight weeks to visit her family and to see patients in a building on her family’s property that was converted to serve as the clinic. When she’s not there, a team of volunteers keeps the clinic open.

The clinic — called the Shaktishifa (meaning strength and core) Health Foundation — then completed its second phase: Workers converted a chicken coop on her parents’ property next to the clinic into four examination rooms. The clinic actually stemmed from a project Hussain did in the slums of India while in graduate school. In the project, she showed people how to prevent illnesses and developmental delays using protein powders and supplements.

When Hussain completed her post-graduate studies in medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1993, she received an unexpected surprise. As the recipient of the Leonard P. Burke Memorial Award, she was given a grant valued at about $750.

She used the money to establish the clinic. She bought a bed, a surgical cupboard, instruments and a tiny lab.

As India’s fifth-largest city, Hyderabad offers state-of-the-art medicine to the upper class, while many of the city’s poorest residents die from preventable diseases.

The walk-in medical clinic focuses on health screening, prevention and education. They wait in line for hours at the clinic, which Hussain has described as a place of last resort for people who can’t afford diagnostics.

The Wieses became aware of the clinic and donated to it. Hussain, meanwhile, followed Cyndi’s illness as both a friend and colleague. She earmarked a gift they’d given for a women’s health project and decided to name it after Cyndi. Many friends, relatives and co-workers of the Wiese family donated to the project.

The Cyndi Wiese Women’s Health Initiative Clinic is held every Tuesday and is dedicated entirely to the health needs of women. Since its inception in 2005, some 2,000 women have received health care services. There have been more than 110 deliveries, with associated prenatal and post-natal care, and 31 major surgeries, all at little or no cost to women who would have otherwise gone with no medical care at all. An ultrasound machine was also purchased with funds contributed by the Cyndi Wiese Women’s Health Initiative. With further donations, a cardiac probe was added. It is used for both fetal and cardiac monitoring.

“It is amazing what she (Hussain) has been able to do with her resources,” said Isaac Wiese, Steve and Cyndi’s middle son, who is a junior at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. “It’s amazing how far the American dollar goes in India.”

Tyler said there is “definitely a need for what Nas is doing.”

“She does a lot of incredible work,” he added.

At the dedication, Hussain and Tyler spoke and Isaac played guitar and sang. A number of doctors and top government officials were on hand for the ceremony, Tyler added.

The brothers put a plaque on a donors’ sculpture recognizing their mother’s contributions. Steve Wiese also added a plaque to remember Jan Olson, an Albert Lea Medical Center emergency room nurse who died of cancer last year and was a firm supporter of Hussain’s efforts in India.

In addition to health care for Indian women who could not otherwise afford it, the Cyndi Wiese Women’s Health Initiative has also had a direct effect on saving the lives of female newborns who would otherwise have been euthanized or sold upon birth, simply because they are female.

Although female infanticide is not legal or condoned in India, it is still practiced among some of the severely impoverished tribal populations who have little access to education, jobs or health care in certain remote parts of the state in which the clinic is located. Among these poor people, whose livelihoods are dependent on migrant farm work, female children are seen as a burden. They won’t be educated, can’t help support the family and to be married, must provide a dowry. Thus, a baby girl is usually viewed as a burden rather than a blessing, and often suffocated at birth or handed over to child traffickers.

It was Cyndi’s desire, her family said, to help put an end to these practices through education, counseling and financial support.

So, some of the funds from the Cyndi Wiese Women’s Health Initiative have gone to a sister program, Gramya, a facility that not only advocates for women’s and children’s rights, but also houses, cares for and educates children, mostly girls, who have been abandoned by their families. There are 126 children of all ages at Gramya. Eight baby girls have been directly saved by funds from the Cyndi Wiese Women’s Health Initiative, which has provided food, clothing and formula.

The family visited Gramya, which is about three hours outside Hyderabad. There was also a ceremony to recognize Cyndi’s contributions there.

Tyler said someday he’d love to go back to India and revisit the clinic and the people who work there.

“I would love to go back to the friendly people and the meaningful friendships I made there,” he said.

Steve also said he’d like to return someday — and take his youngest son, Noah, to see what is being accomplished in his mother’s name.

“This brought back Cyndi to the front and center of our lives again,” Steve said.

People can still make contributions to the Cyndi Wiese Women’s Health Initiative through the India Health Foundation. Contributions may be sent in care of Ron Wolfe, 998 Ashland Ave., No. 3, St. Paul, MN 55104.