While she was growing up, Natu Strathy took care of other children who were sick, part of a pre-birth prophesy she only learned about many years later. “My mother told me that her grandmother and my father’s grandmother came to her in a dream and told her they were bringing her a child she should name Natu, which in Liberia means the one who helps me, the one I lean on,” she says.
“So, I was born to take care of people before I even knew it!”
Knowing she wanted to be a nurse, Natu supported herself through four years of nurses training at Cuttington University in Suacoco, Liberia. When she didn’t have the funds to live in the dormitory her final year, she and a friend stayed in a teacher’s barn. “We had a makeshift wooden pad to sleep on and we constantly had malaria because of the mosquitos, but we made it through,” she recalls.
Freshly graduated with a degree in nursing in 1980, Natu eventually left Liberia in 1987 due to civil unrest. She settled in England, staying with an older brother who sponsored her, where she took her boards and received a certificate in surgical nursing. “Surgery is the scariest part of medicine and everyone going into surgery is scared,” she explains. “I want to make patients smile and feel comfortable – that is my goal – to be the best nurse I can be. And then to give them that calm.”
Natu worked at Queen Alexandra Hospital, a military hospital in Portsmouth, England, before finding her way to the U.S., where her mother lived with her young son. “When I was in England it was so difficult being a single parent that my mother agreed to raise my son for a few years,” she says. “But when I came to get him, they were so attached, that I said I would do everything to come to the U.S. I took the state boards and eventually applied for a job at North Memorial.”
When she received a call from an immigration official that North Memorial Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, wanted to hire her as a surgical nurse, Natu moved to the U.S., eventually meeting her future husband in the operating room there.
“He mispronounced my name, calling me ‘Nat-Sue,’ and I corrected him, so he was very quiet,” she recalls. “Anyone who knows Kevin knows that he isn’t quiet by nature, so I figured he didn’t like me.”
Kevin and Natu became good friends. “Being a single mom and working with all of the plastic surgeons at North Memorial, I had two full-time jobs,” she says. “When I had an umbilical hernia that needed repair – I went to the best and it was him.”
They were married in 2001 and continued to team up in the operating room. They eventually moved to Florida and established an independent plastic surgery practice based in Sebring.
“In 2013, Kevin said, ‘Natu, you’ve been everywhere I’ve lived. I want to see where you come from,’” recalls Natu. “And so, we flew back, but I couldn’t sleep on that plane, my heart was pounding so hard. Because of the war, I thought that as an American, the Liberians would hate me. But instead, when I arrived at the airport, they said, ‘Our sister’s back!’ and they just welcomed us, so much. From then on, I knew I was home.”
After that visit, the couple established Liberia Medical Relief, a nonprofit organization that helps provide needed medical supplies and support. Natu finds working on surgical cases in Liberia very fulfilling since she is able to use her world-class medical training to help people who are suffering. “In America I am working; in Liberia I am making a difference – and that’s what keeps bringing me back. I don’t do it so others can admire me – I do it because I am actually saving a life – every life I can touch.”
Natu also has a passion for teaching spinning classes and instilling healthy habits in others. She has even created a recipe for salve that is proving highly beneficial to healing in burn victims.
When she’s not in the operating room or involved in a spin class, Natu is busy teaching the next generation of Liberian nurses who will staff the burn unit the couple plans to develop. In her teaching sessions she shares her sophisticated surgical techniques and how best to care for others – a combination of her years of experience and something she learned long ago as a child:
“I ask them, ‘Who do you see on that bed?’ Everybody has a different answer, but I tell them if you don’t see yourself on that bed, then you’re not a nurse,” says Natu. “Once that patient is you, it’s easy to take care of that patient, because you know what you would want and how you want to be treated.”