The Journey to a Life of Service

March 26, 2018

Al Preto

Alessandro Preto was 18 when he left his home in southern Brazil and traveled 5,600 miles northward to learn farming because he hoped to become a veterinarian. He spoke little English, “just like ‘where’s the bathroom?’ and ‘I’m hungry,’” he jokes today.

Though he soon mastered the language of his new home and learned how to raise hogs and corn on an Iowa farm, he had to abandon his initial goal because, as the son of a mechanic, he couldn’t afford the international tuition fees of veterinary colleges.

Instead he became a nurse, married, moved to California and worked for several years before being accepted into Mount Marty College’s highly respected nurse anesthesia program.

In September he represented his 66 fellow CRNA students when he spoke at the 75th anniversary of the program. Preto lauded the familial culture of MMC program, noting that it became apparent when he was invited to interview for a slot. “Right away, they invited my wife to come along and it was obvious that they were looking beyond me and caring about my family,” he says.

Mount Marty’s CRNA program, located in southwest Sioux Falls, also offered “a predictable schedule,” says Preto, which allowed him to continue to work as a nurse and be a better husband and father.

“The professors have always been genuine and they also cared about our families,” says Preto, and that atmosphere prevailed among the student body. “We worked as a team to help the whole class succeed. We helped each other out and built each other up and that’s been my Mount Marty College experience.”

Dr. Mary Anne Krogh, the program director and an associate professor, says the caring environment is even part of the curriculum. “Our students incorporate mission activities in their educational experiences from day one,” she says.

“I believe this makes them well-rounded nurse anesthetists who think not just about their clinical obligations but also of their obligations to humankind.”

Preto and his classmates served a community banquet, packed groceries for Feeding South Dakota and adopted a family in the Christmas season.

Dr. Krogh says service is the underpinning of the profession. “What I love about anesthesia is that we get to help people when they are most vulnerable. There is nothing more gratifying than providing an anesthetic and having a patient wake up at the end of surgery free of pain and happy with the outcome.”

MMC’s CRNA program was founded in 1942 at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton. It became a bachelor’s-level program in 1965 and soon gained recognition as one of the nation’s most innovative schools thanks in part to the leadership of Sister Arthur Schramm, a pioneer in the field of nurse anesthesia education. A masters program began in 1983 and doctoral status was achieved this year.

Thirty-two MMC students will graduate from the program in February of 2018, including the young man from Brazil. He won’t forget the journey as he begins his new profession.

Preto says his parents separated when he was a child, and he grew up with his mother in Canoinhas, Santa Carina, a city of about 75,000 people. Upon arriving in the U.S., he worked for Storm Lake, Iowa., farmer Norlin Gutz for seven years as he attended community colleges and earned his nursing degree.

“We loaded hogs early in the morning and then we did the fieldwork and everything else that there was to do on a farm,” he says. Preto became good friends with the Gutzes’ daughter, Kayla, and as the years passed the friendship grew stronger. They were married and today they have two daughters, Adrianna, 6, and Vivian, 3.

Preto looks back on his adventure from Brazil to Iowa with wonder. “Farming was hard work but it paid for my education and I married the farmer’s daughter so that turned out pretty good,” he says.

As the son of a single mom, he knows the value of family so when he applied to MMC for the nurse anesthesia program and the school officials urged him to bring Kayla along for the interview he felt he found a new home in South Dakota.

“I have been blessed by Mount Marty College,” he says, “and now I hope to bless others with the opportunities I’ve been given.”