Two years ago, Tracey Rzepka was in Uganda training leaders in AIDS prevention.
Today, she is the parish nurse at St. Armands Key Lutheran Church.
But, basically, Rzepka says her mission is the same.
“Obviously my emphasis here is not on AIDS, but my mission or goal has always been on prevention and working with the individual to enhance well-being,” Rzepka said.
Since coming to St. Armands Key Lutheran in late 2008, Rzepka has initiated several wellness classes at the church on topics such as weight loss, exercise and cooking for cancer survivors.
Rzepka also conducts monthly blood-pressure checks and is always available to meet with parishioners on individual problems.
“My work in Africa gave me great satisfaction but working with church members gives me equal satisfaction,” she says. “Here, I am helping them get the most out of preventative-health issues and bring healing not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.”
Rzepka holds a master’s degree in adult nursing, a certificate in psychiatric mental-health nursing and has worked as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner at the Lee County Health Department. She has also worked at the Bay Isles Medical Clinic, on Longboat, and the Community AIDS Network, in Sarasota.
It was working for the Community AIDS Network that led her to Africa.
“I joined Youth with a Mission and later worked with Global Outreach with a desire to do more to combat AIDS,” Rzepka said.
Rzepka concentrated on AIDS prevention but also treated HIV/AIDS patients.
“I am very proud to report that in 1990 the AIDS rate in Uganda was 30% and today it is 4% to 6%.”
This summer, Rzepka will return to Africa and live for five weeks in Angola, where the AIDS rate is still high; she will also spend some time in Uganda.
“I am really looking forward to it,” she says. “I have a lot of friends there, especially the family I lived with for several weeks.”
Rzepka has visited Africa several times since 1997 for periods of weeks up to a year.
During the past two decades she has worked with AIDS patients, Rzepka said there have been significant changes.
“Twenty years ago, there was choice of two or three drugs,” she says. “Now, there are dozens and with combinations that are more effective.”
Rzepka said although she has traveled often, she never gets lonely.
“I am the kind person who adapts easily, and with the Internet you are always in communication with family,” Rzepka says. “I am always at home wherever I am.”
Contact Robin Hartill at firstname.lastname@example.org
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