A life lived fully, joyfully

Whether she was teaching students, making anatomical models at midnight, enjoying time with family or handing out hugs to surgery TAs, Marjean Tryon Reed left lessons on how to live.

Jeana Shelley wanted to be a surgery teaching assistant, but the smell of cautery made her gag. One morning before class, she met with her instructor, Marjean Tryon Reed, B.S.N., to review cautery procedures.

“To basically desensitize me, she continually wafted the smoke into my space until I was able to stand the smell,” says Shelley, D.O.’13. “The smell of cautery now no longer bothers me, and every time a surgeon uses cautery, I am reminded of Marjean and how dedicated she was to surgery lab.”

That was typical of “MJ” – a teacher who carefully trained and cared for students, a dear friend with an artistic eye and gusto for life, an insightful instructor who bought calf livers at a local grocery store to get students used to the smell of internal organs. She was a vibrant colleague who rarely revealed the pain and exhaustion of her pancreatic cancer, showing her x-rays to DMU’s surgery teaching assistants to help them learn.

“She worked with us at mastering skills and was very good at explaining things. You could tell she loved her job and cherished what she was doing,” says Jimmy Barger, D.O.’13. “She radiated joy and vibrancy. She brightened up the room.”

“She was the friend you could call at the last minute and she would be ready to go,” says friend and colleague Pam Winslow. “In her honor, that is one of the things I am going to try to follow.”

MJ, 54, lost her battle with cancer on Dec. 28. A registered nurse for 30 years and coordinator of surgical education at DMU since 2001, she also was advisor for the Student Osteopathic Surgery Association (SOSA) and coordinated the design and testing of a laparoscopic surgery training program for medical students and residents at Des Moines’ Mercy Medical Center.

MJ was as personable as she was a perfectionist. For example, she made sure all the surgery TAs had scrubs embroidered with their names.

“She gave hugs and was always so bubbly,” says Alison Noftsger, senior administrative assistant in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. “At the end of her e-mail messages, the last line was always ‘Have a great day’ with five exclamation points.”

Marjean, Brenda and Jeana
Marjean Reed, right, shared a bond with many, including Brenda Scovel, surgery lab coordinator, and surgery TA Jeana Shelley, D.O.'13.

Shelley recalls MJ demonstrating to students how to place an IV by inserting a large eight- or 10-gauge needle in a medical mannequin’s arm. “She’d then say we were going to use the same-size needle when we practice on one another to make sure we wouldn’t miss the vessel,” Shelley says. “She always made this statement with a straight face, so the students would turn around to look at the TAs with a quizzical look, as if to ask if we were really going to use that size needle.

“We would attempt to keep a straight face until Marjean would burst out laughing and then show a much smaller 22-gauge needle that would actually be used,” she continues. “The students always let out a big laugh with a sigh of relief… This really broke the ice on the first day of surgery lab and also made the students a little less nervous.”

New scholarship fund honors a heroine

Pam Winslow, R.N., executive director of DMU’s Osteopathic Postdoctoral Training Institute, says Marjean Reed’s perfectionism as a surgical instructor is why the University has “graduates all over the country who are teaching other students.”

“She made them feel they knew what they were doing,” says Winslow, a close friend and colleague of MJ. “She trained a lot of nurses, too. She gave students confidence.”

Her great impact on students is being honored and celebrated at DMU by the new Marjean Reed Scholarship Fund. As of March 7, contributions to the fund – which will benefit osteopathic medical students – totaled $22,590.

“People feel very strongly she had a gift, and they want to give back for her,” Winslow says.

For information on the fund or to make a gift, contact DMU’s institutional advancement staff at 515- 271-1387.

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