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CCRI alumni and husband and wife duo put lives on hold in fight against COVID

April 21, 2021

The biography of Kerrie and Glenn Medeiros is the true story of two Community College of Rhode Island alumni, now in their 34th year of marriage, who’ve proven there’s no age limit on perseverance, nor is it ever too late to rewrite your history.

Kerrie, a mother of four and a 2000 CCRI graduate, is now a full-time Chemistry teacher at William M. Davies Jr. Career and Technical High School in Lincoln and an adjunct professor at CCRI. Her husband, Glenn – CCRI Class of 2012 – is a former truck driver-turned-respiratory therapist who spent the past year away from home working long hours on the front lines during the COVID-19 outbreak.

After his own battle with the virus in April of 2020 that left him bedridden for nearly a month, Glenn went above and beyond amidst the country’s escalating death toll as a respiratory therapist at hospitals in Miami and Worcester, a critical, high-demand position considering COVID’s jarring impact on the respiratory system.

With the Worcester field hospital closing in mid-March, Glenn returned to Rhode Island for a much-needed reprieve, ending a year-long odyssey of living out of hotels and holding patients by the hand as they took their last breath.

As the world continues to adapt to the “new normal,” Kerrie and Glenn have taken the well-deserved opportunity to reflect on the pandemic through their own lens, remembering the improbable journey that brought them here and the role CCRI played in reshaping their future. The path they traveled is even more impressive than how they’ve exceled amidst the chaos.

“People can’t believe he was a truck driver for 25 years,” Kerrie said. “Now he’s working in a hospital treating patients and taking care of people. It’s amazing. That all happened because he went to CCRI.”

Glenn and Kerrie’s story began innocently enough, two teenagers locking eyes in a Burger King parking lot. Within six months, they were married. A year later, they had their first child, and by the age of 25, Kerrie was a stay-at-home mother of four while Glenn worked the family business as a commercial truck driver.

Glenn never had much interest in continuing his education beyond high school. He struggled in the classroom, growing up in an era where learning disabilities often went undiagnosed and teachers mischaracterized students’ shortcomings as an unwillingness to cooperate.

While Glenn made a steady living driving trucks, Kerrie wanted to try something new. With nothing more than a high school diploma, she entered the workforce at 25, but quickly realized she needed a degree.

“The only thing I was qualified to do was work at Burger King, and they paid me $3.35 an hour,” Kerrie said. “I knew this wasn’t going to work for me. So, what do you do? You go and look at CCRI.”

Upon enrolling, Kerrie met Chemistry Professor Wayne Suits, who nudged her toward Chemical Technology. She earned her associate degree from CCRI with a 4.0 GPA, then a bachelor’s in Secondary Education from Rhode Island College, followed by her master’s in Geosciences from Mississippi State. She has taught science, biology, and chemistry at Davies for the past 18 years and has been an adjunct at CCRI for nearly a decade.

While Kerrie pursued her education, Glenn eventually purchased a truck to start his own company, delivering everything from jet fuel to propane across the northeast.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the industry changed dramatically; enhanced security measures added more hours to drivers’ workloads and more overhead for owners, making it harder for small businesses to survive. Glenn was also dealing with the physical toll from years of driving, welding, and construction jobs, which included seven knee surgeries, 10 pins in his right arm, and a spinal cord stimulator in his back.

“I just got fed up with the industry,” he said. “I knew I needed to do something different.”

By then, Kerrie had finished her education, as had most of their children, three of whom graduated from CCRI. Convinced he couldn’t succeed in the classroom, Glenn leaned heavily on his wife for motivation as he enrolled at CCRI in 2009 at the age of 39. He originally targeted nursing, but instead switched to his current role at the recommendation of a close friend, who was a respiratory therapist supervisor at Rhode Island Hospital.

Despite long hours on the road, Glenn remained committed to his education, squeezing in study time and homework between routes and even spending nights sleeping in the back of his truck following particularly long shifts. He eventually sold the business so he could attend college full-time and earned his associate degree in 2012, walking the stage at commencement alongside his daughter, Krystiana, who is now a teacher, and Kerrie, who marched in the faculty procession as an adjunct. Two years later, the Respiratory Therapy program invited Glenn back to CCRI to speak to its graduating class.

“I told the students, ‘Remember where you started,’” Glenn said. “No matter where you go with the rest of your education – I don’t care if it’s Yale, Harvard, Oxford – your foundation was the Community College of Rhode Island.

“CCRI is so welcoming, especially to adult students like myself. I was afraid to go back to school. All my friends said, ‘You can’t go from driving a truck to saving lives,’ and I told them, ‘Anyone can change their stars.’ The professors were so accommodating. CCRI hands down has the most welcoming, helpful teachers you’ll ever meet in your life.”

“I always tell people how CCRI really changed my life and to not be afraid to go there,” Kerrie added. “Some people think it’s only a community college. No way. I love CCRI and wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”

Shortly before the pandemic struck, Glenn worked at Norwood Hospital in Massachusetts, where he had spent the last four years as a nighttime therapist. Amidst shortages of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, Glenn quickly contracted COVID, relying on his wife and daughter, Alexandra, a graduate of RIC’s nursing program, to aid in his recovery.

Within weeks of Glenn’s return to work, Norwood closed its doors following a massive flood in June, leaving Glenn without a job. He spent a few days “feeding the birds” before a friend referred him to SnapNurse, a company that connects pre-credentialed nurses and healthcare workers to facilities with empty shifts.

With respiratory specialists in high demand, Glenn jumped at the opportunity to help the fight against COVID. He was only supposed to stay in Miami for four weeks, but instead applied for his Florida license and continued working at Kendall Regional Hospital – a Level I trauma center – until early December, when a dip in COVID cases allowed him to move back north and work closer to home.

“You’re just trying to help out with whatever you can,” he said. “In Miami, I’d go home every day crying. You see a lot of death. People couldn’t see their families, so they didn’t have any visitors. You’re the last person they see before they pass on.”

“Nobody signs up for that,” Kerrie added.

The move to Worcester was a welcomed change of scenery. As the number of positive cases continued to decrease, the staff at the DCU Center hung a bell in the facility that rang each time a patient was sent home. “The other patients would hear it,” Glenn said, “and we’d tell them, ‘You’re going to be next.’”

Looking back on the pandemic from his own unique vantage point, Glenn credits his CCRI education and, most importantly, a rock-solid marriage with helping him survive the last year and a half under intense pressure while away from his family. No task was too tall for the couple that had already defied the odds.

“Having a strong family and a strong wife helped,” Glenn said. “Without them, I’d never be able to do this. My kids and my in-laws really stepped to the plate taking care of the house while I was gone.”

“I’m very proud of him,” Kerrie said, “and he knows that. I tell him all the time.”

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