Mary Staneart has been a caregiver for nearly all her adult life—since the age of 16. She cared for her terminally ill grandparents, father, an in-law and finally her own husband, who died in 2008 after an eight-year battle with cancer.
“When your life is turned upside down like that–as a widow–people leave you alone,” Staneart reflects. “There is a separation. Even family.”
It was at this time of life that Staneart recognized she was in “a situation where I could finally do something for myself.”
With encouragement from a friend, Staneart enrolled at Minnesota School of Business in St. Cloud in 2010, initially in Health Care Management. She switched to the Massage program because she feels that massage is the “healthy, happy side of medicine.”
Her tenure in the Massage Therapy program has been one of hard work and dedication, but she is most proud of her internship with the Veteran’s Administration hospital.
Staneart requested the VA as an intern site because she felt a special affinity to veterans, having known several relatives who have actively served, including her husband, a Viet Nam veteran. Although MSB did not currently have a relationship with the VA other than volunteering, Massage Therapy Program Chair Irene Rangen helped place Staneart in an internship position there.
Staneart faced extra challenges because of her choice, including taking a class on-line for HIPAA laws and the rules and regulations of the VA itself. She took the entire first week of school vacation to do it on her own time. She also needed to pass a background check and complete an application process that was lengthy.
In addition, Staneart right away had to learn to adapt to the veterans’ illnesses and devices and found that, for the most part, all her patients were of a special population. They included Korea, Viet Nam and even World War II veterans.
Staneart believes through this experience she has found her therapy niche. “I love caring for special populations and geriatrics,” she says. “They deserve anything that can make it better now. I have so much respect for anyone who has been in the service—without them, where would we be?”
It also wasn’t lost on Staneart that her experience at the VA was forging a new path for the college. She said she knew it was a door opening for the whole school and that it weighed heavily on her shoulders. She was particularly careful about presenting herself in a professional manner at all times.
Her clients were very appreciative. “They loved it,” she admits. And even her hospice patient on a ventilator was able to communicate satisfaction to her through raising his eyebrows up and down and blinking. This, she says, “was a highlight for me.”
And Staneart, in turn, was in awe of them. “They don’t let pain get in the way. They are interested in how other people do: they are unselfish. Even those in wheelchairs without a lot of activity– their spirit is there.”
“It doesn’t take much to make them happy,” she explains. “Listen to their story. Many relax more when they can talk—and that’s different than a regular massage experience. Most of it is making them comfortable. Releasing tension. Increasing circulation.”
Staneart believes that she has come full-circle in her journey: after feeling there was no hope ahead for her to a sense of hope and the future. She is already applying for jobs and would love to apply to the VA if a position were to open.
She feels a great amount of gratitude for her college education. “For me, MSB became a different family. I haven’t met one person who wouldn’t help me. I haven’t met one person who wouldn’t back me up. There was security.”
And Staneart has advice for those in a similar situation to hers: “Never give up. There’s always a solution—maybe not at the present time, but there’s always one to work to on.”