After moving from Romania to Kansas City in 2008, Alex Drescanu had to figure out what he’d do in America.
Six years before, he’d met the woman he would eventually marry, then-TV news anchor Elizabeth Alex, when she was in Romania doing a story on a Kansas City-based medical missions organization. Drescanu had served as her interpreter.
He’d earned a master’s degree in psychology in his home country, but he didn’t want to become a psychologist. The interpreting was a part-time job every autumn. (“Romania really does great at teaching languages,” he says. He started learning English in second grade.)
He also spent a year and a few summers doing construction work — remodeling old buildings — in the Netherlands.
So, after marrying Elizabeth in 2008 and moving to a new country in the middle of a recession … what next?
Two things compelled him to consider nursing as a career.
First was his mom’s death at the age of 50 during his third year of college. She’d suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. But, Drescanu points out, we don’t usually think of that as a fatal disease. He remembers a Romanian doctor giving his mom what seemed like a handful of prednisone pills, a steroid.
Romania’s health care system, he says, is “rotten.” He mentions the recent story of a company caught selling heavily diluted disinfectants to hospitals there, putting patients at greater risk of infection.
His feeling then and now is that his mom shouldn’t have died.
“I watched my mom suffer for many years — a beautiful, loving, successful woman who slowly succumbed to a disease that could have been treated with competent practitioners,” Drescanu says. She’d struggle to walk, get out of bed, climb the several flights of stairs in their apartment building.
The other thing that influenced Drescanu, now 36, to think about medicine: all those Medical Missions Foundation visits to Romania and elsewhere, not only the ones he assisted with as a translator early on but also those he’s gone on with Alex and others. “I’d see them as role models,” he says of the American doctors and nurses he met.
His first job here was selling cars, which he did for more than four years. He was successful at it, but he was working 10-12 hours a day and every Saturday. It took a toll on his family. And “I felt like I had a little bit more to give than (being able to) sell a car.”
He later started a data brokerage company with a friend. That lasted about a year.
Meanwhile, he’d keep running across people, like at MMF fundraisers, who’d tell him that with his nurturing character, he’d make a good nurse.
He checked around before deciding to apply for Metropolitan Community College’s associate degree in nursing (ADN) program. He learned that the program is highly regarded and that graduates are well-prepared. Plus, a surgeon he knows through MMF called the Health Science Institute’s Virtual Hospital “an amazing facility.”
Drescanu had a similar reaction. “The second I came in here and saw this facility, I said, ‘Oh my gosh, hold on,’ ” he says.
“You get a lot of experience, actually, by working in simulation.” He also got a wide range of hands-on clinical experience at such hospitals as Centerpoint, Research, Research Psychiatric, St. Mary’s and Children’s Mercy.
He started taking MCC prerequisite classes in 2013 and started the nursing program in 2015. He’ll graduate in May.
The program is tough, he says, but instructors are eager to help students. At no point did he hear that a faculty member was too busy to meet with him, he says.
As for the Health Science Institute’s recent mass casualty event, which presented MCC medical, police and fire students with scores of mock injuries to treat, “I loved it,” Drescanu says.
“Once you see all that blood and agitation and chaos around you, it does get that adrenaline going in you, for sure. You’ve got to do something right at that time — you can’t stew and rethink and re-check.”
He said he relived the experience for several hours afterward, wondering if everything he did to treat “patients” — both human volunteers and computer-operated “simulators” that look and respond like humans — was appropriate. Participants got together for a debriefing that afternoon.
Elizabeth, his wife, says he does nothing halfway.
“I can’t count how many nursing lectures I was forced to listen to while driving,” she says. “And I will never forget being in church during the months he took anatomy when he would hold my hand only to analyze the bones and tendons.”
But now there’s his future to think about. Ultimately Drescanu would like to work in a trauma setting, like an emergency room. In the short term he’ll probably work on a hospital medical-surgical floor. He’ll also start on an online bachelor of science in nursing degree. (His associate degree at MCC represents “the nitty-gritty … the hard-core nursing.”)
And there will always be sick people around the world. Drescanu and his wife will be taking part in a medical missions trip to Uganda in September. They also, by the way, run and raise funds for an orphanage in Romania.
His homeland will always pull him toward it. His mom’s experience, too.
“My dream was to go back to Romania to work as a nurse on one of those missions,” he says. “I just want to do something now to help someone else in my mom’s memory.
“My plan is to do it. I think the nursing license will come in very handy.”