The tragic story of a young nurse who died of COVID-19 after months of working during the pandemic has been memorialized in the creation of financial support for nursing students.
The Kim Kotelo Memorial Award for Nurses will award $1,000 annually to an individual completing their third year of Red River College Polytechnic's bachelor of nursing program.
Kotelo's mother, Eleanor, said what she appreciates most about the award is it will go to a student who shows a caring and compassionate attitude toward patients and colleagues.
"It's not for those with the best marks," she said Monday. "It has to be somebody with the same qualities as Kim showed and displayed.
"She would love it. She would be smiling and saying, finally, nurses get some recognition."
Kim Kotelo's childhood dream was to become a nurse. She graduated from RRC Polytech's nursing program in 2020, and began working at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg as an acute care nurse just as the pandemic hit.
Kotelo had an underlying condition: Type 1 diabetes. But while some of her colleagues switched to less risky areas of nursing, Kotelo stayed in acute care.
On April 30, Kotelo was found dead inside her apartment. The medical examiner later confirmed she had COVID-19. Kotelo was 26.
Eleanor said she is grateful for philanthropists and entrepreneurs Mark and Sharon Evans — he founded and sold financial planning software product EISI a few years ago before founding another company last year — for donating the money to start the award.
"It's just so wonderful," she said.
Evans said both he and his wife were touched when they read a Free Press story in May about Kotelo's life and death.
"Instead of something negative, this is a way of turning a negative into a positive," he said. "We decided to reach out and see if we can make it happen."
Evans said his family also had extra incentives: he was helped by nurses while facing a cancer battle a few years ago.
The couple has donated enough to ensure the award can be given annually for a decade, but they have also agreed to match future donations so the fund can grow.
"If we can raise $30,000 that will generate $1,000 per year forever," he said. "It is super important to help our health-care system and the people in it."
Patrick Griffith, RRC Polytech chair of the School of Nursing, said the cash award will come at the right time for a student.
"I was stone cold broke when I graduated," said Griffith. "There's so many costs — it's not just tuition. There is transportation, you have to get to a hospital and parking is expensive, and there's lunch, books and equipment. This will help a lot.
"And it is nice to see something positive come from such a tragedy."
To donate, visit rrc.ca/donate and designate the gift in memory of Kotelo, phone 204-619-0139, or send a cheque to RRC Polytech Development Office, C306-2055 Notre Dame Ave., Winnipeg, MB, R3H 0J9.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.