Inventor, Designer, Entrepreneur
Mary Perry can still remember her first year as a nurse, working nights from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep,” she says. “I still don’t today.”
As an RN at Nassau County Medical Center, she was in charge of a 36 bed unit at night, with sometimes just one nurse’s aide to support her in the evening hours. “Receiving so much responsibility so early in my career was a very challenging introduction into nursing,” she says.
After a year working at Nassau County Medical Center, a move brought her and her husband to Washington D.C., where she found her way to the medical floor at Georgetown University Medical Center, an institution that was ahead of its time. “Georgetown University Medical Center was innovative,” she explains. “Anything new in nursing, such as team nursing and primary nursing, we did. It was a great teaching and learning experience.”
At the same time Mrs. Perry, who already had her RN, was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in nursing – over 200 miles away from her home in Washington D.C. “On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I would work 10 hour days at Georgetown. Fridays I would come into work early so that I could leave early to take a train to Long Island, where I took classes at C.W. Post on Saturday and Sunday, and then head back to D.C. by train Sunday evening. I took Wednesdays off to do homework.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1976, her next goal was to pursue her master’s degree in Boston, where she and her husband were relocating. While working full time at Massachusetts General Hospital, however, she became pregnant with her first child. “I put my dreams of earning my master’s degree on hold,” stated Mrs. Perry, who went on to work at Beth Israel Hospital until her son was born in 1977.
Following a move to New Jersey and the birth of the Perrys’ second child, the family moved back to Long Island. They had two more babies, and as their children grew older, Mrs. Perry became more involved with volunteer work at the children’s schools.
In 1992, with her two oldest in high school, she began working for the Lions Eye Bank for Long Island, a service organization dedicated to fighting corneal blindness. “The Lions Eye Bank coordinates all the activities necessary to recover, process, medically screen, and distribute donated eye tissue for transplantation, research, education, and the advancement of medical technique,” she says.
As a nurse in-service coordinator, she assisted in the development of conferences and coordinated lectures and video presentations to nursing staff of member hospitals in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. “The aim was to increase awareness of the need for donor tissue for corneal transplants,” she says.
Who needs a corneal transplant? “Anyone who develops corneal blindness from diseases such as Fuchs’ dystrophy or Keratoconus,” she explains. “Also, corneal blindness may occur from infections or trauma. Any clouding or injury to the cornea can lead to the need for transplantation. Think of a cornea as a window. If a window gets cloudy or damaged, you need to replace the pane. In the case of the eye, the pane is the cornea.”
For Mrs. Perry, the most rewarding aspect of her work was seeing the positive impact that a donation of tissue made in the lives of the recipient and the donor’s family. “I’ll never forget one recipient who shared her story at one of our conferences,” she relates. “This woman had been blind for 20 years. No one had detected that she needed a corneal transplant until she went to one doctor. After her vision was restored, the recipient said that ‘a whole new world opened up to her.’ Hearing her story had a great impact on me.”
It was while Mrs. Perry was helping to bring the gift of sight to others that she brought her lifelong vision of earning her master’s degree to fruition. “Education was really important to my father because my parents’ own education was disrupted by World War II. It was important to them that my brother, sister, and I completed our education. My siblings and I were the first in our family to go to college. Getting my master’s degree was always an important goal for me,” she says.
Mrs. Perry pursued her master’s degree in nursing administration at Adelphi, which she earned in 2006. “Adelphi awakened in me a love of learning and challenged me to be the best that I could be. I never expected to do all that I did and enjoy it as much as I did,” says Mrs. Perry, who was inducted into the Alpha Omega Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society for Nursing and won the Outstanding Master’s Project Award.
She accomplished all of this while continuing her work at the Lions Eye Bank for Long Island. Over the course of her 15 years at the Lions Eye Bank, Mrs. Perry transitioned from the role of nurse in-service coordinator to nurse liaison to the eye bank’s quality assurance coordinator, a position she held until 2008.
While technically retired, there is no sleep for the driven: Mrs. Perry is currently in the process of starting her own business. “I had an idea for a therapeutic-like pillow…and I’ve partnered with a fashion designer to create it,” she says. In November 2010, while developing her product and constructing a business plan, she returned to her alma mater for the Adelphi C.O.A.C.H. (Count On Alumni for Career Help) event, “Starting Your Own Business,” in which a panel of alumni experts spoke about the various aspects that go into building your own business.
Today Mrs. Perry’s company is currently working on its signature pieces. “Because the pillow has medical benefits, we are doing clinical testing now,” she explains. “My nursing background really helps with this.” With her product slated to launch in summer 2011, Mrs. Perry is excited for what the future holds. “I was never planning for this…it just took off,” she says. “But if you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can achieve.”
Mrs. Perry and her husband have four children. In her free time, she enjoys activities with her family; including skiing, swimming, golfing, and traveling.
When and why did you want to become a nurse?
I was originally an accounting major. During my college years I worked as a nurse’s aide at Meadowbrook Hospital. I’ll never forget the time I gave an elderly gentleman a shave after several day’s growth. He was so appreciative that he kissed my hand. I really enjoyed working with people in need of care and compassion. Nursing was a profession that made me proud.
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi?
I always heard that Adelphi was an excellent school, and I had a friend who completed her bachelor’s degree there. All of Adelphi’s professors were great: Dr. Judith Ackerhalt met with me when I decided to look into Adelphi’s nursing program. I had set a goal for myself in my earlier years to obtain a master’s degree. It was extremely important to me. Dr. Ackerhalt was very understanding and supportive. She really welcomed me and eased my anxiety and fear of returning to school so many years later. I am forever grateful for her guidance and kindness. I also enjoyed Dr. Ackerhalt’s classes, which were stimulating and thought provoking.
Working on my master’s project with Dr. Marybeth Ryan was an invaluable experience. Her knowledge and writing skills are superb. I would go in with my work thinking that it was well written. Out would come the pen, and when she was done, I was rearranging paragraphs and sentences like puzzle pieces on a board. Dr. Ryan would tell me that I should have another set of eyes look over my work. I was embarrassed to tell her I did! In the end, through sweat and tears, I had a paper that was very gratifying. Thank you Dr. Ryan!
When I went to the book binder and picked up my master’s project I sat in the car caressing my bound copy while tears of joy streamed down my face. I felt so proud of myself, having accomplished such a daunting task.
When I graduated in 2006 at Nassau Coliseum, I remember walking down the aisle after receiving my diploma and seeing Professor Mary Anne Hyland waving at me and expressing congratulations. That moment made me feel completely fulfilled.
What are some changes you have seen in nursing or medicine throughout the years?
In the past corneal transplants needed to be performed within 24 hours after death. Today a transplant may occur as far as 7 days from the death of the donor. This is due to new tissue culture media.
What advice would you give to today’s nursing students?
My husband has posters in his study which he would refer to when our children needed a little extra advice. The first one reads, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” The second message is, “Success is a journey, not a destination.”
Be all that you can be and never allow anything to stand in the way of your dreams and goals. It may take time and patience, but they can be achieved. It took me 30 years to receive my master’s degree from Adelphi, and I can tell you, it was such a big accomplishment. It’s the best thing I ever did.