When Eddy Matthieu was a child in Haiti, he loved taking care of people. His family had more money than some, which meant that they had access to such treasures as Tylenol and Robitussin. When a neighbor was ill, young Eddy would offer a combination of concern and drug store remedies.
“I was never afraid of sick people” Matthieu said. “I always looked for a way to help them.”
In 1979, driven by the dream of a better life, Matthieu moved to the United States. His uncle helped him find a job pumping gas in Harlem. He was on his way. Before long he married Renee, “a nice young lady I met in church,” and soon the couple had three children, Marlande, Mark Edward, and Marsha. Life was good, but money was tight.
Matthieu told his landlady that he needed to find a cheaper apartment. She had a better idea. She asked him if he would like to work for the City. He didn’t know what that meant, but he said “sure” and soon landed an interview at Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Center and Home, HHC’s 304-bed long term care facility on Staten Island. Matthieu was offered a job in the laundry. He took it.
“My landlady said, ‘Great. You got your foot in the door.’ I didn’t know what she meant,” he recalled. “I just went and did laundry all day.”
By then, Mathieu’s wife had become a hematologist and wore a white coat to work. Their daughter, Marlande, thought her mother was a doctor. On one unforgettable day, she asked her father why he only worked in a laundry when her mother wore a doctor’s coat.
“In Haiti, there is no shame in doing laundry work, as long as you do it well,” Matthieu said. “But I was determined to do more.” He pursued an Associate’s Degree in Nursing at The College of Staten Island, while enjoying a promotion to Nurse’s Aide at Sea View. He worked double shifts on Friday and Saturday, and one shift on Sunday for four years, so he could attend school during the week. He graduated in 1992.
Nursing proved to be both gratifying and challenging. “People see you in Pathmark and thank you for caring for their parents,” Matthieu said. But he also recalls the tough days. “We had a patient who was suffering terribly. She had been waiting to die for three days, waiting for her son. We couldn’t find him,” Matthieu said. “She wouldn’t let go. Finally, I said, ‘Mama, your son will want you to go. It is okay to go.’ She grabbed my hand tight and she was gone.”
In May of 2003, the former laundry worker successfully moved up the ranks among his nursing peers and was named Sea View’s Associate Director of Nursing and now supervises other nurses. He makes sure that each individual patient care plan is well designed and carefully implemented, and that it strives to recreate what that person had at home, “by the way they dress, by what they eat.”
For Mathieu, patient safety – which can mean anything from wiping up a spill to repairing a worn wheel on a wheelchair to preventing falls -- is another top priority.
“Eddy Mathieu’s is an extraordinary story of triumph and achievement,” said Carole Morgan, RN, Director of Nursing at Sea View. “Ours is an institution that cultivates learning and values the personal strides our staff makes to reach their goals. Eddy’s determination and desire to reach his career dreams is an inspiration to all of us. He is a true example of what you can do when you focus your mind on success.”
Today, Eddy Matthieu is unquestionably a success. But almost every day, he thinks about his young daughter who inspired him to move up in the world.
“Now I have a couple of white coats,” he says with a chuckle. “But I don’t wear them. They hang there in memory of that time when my little girl asked me why I worked in the laundry. She didn’t realize she was starting me on a whole new career.”