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From the Archives: Mother Teresa used 1992 stay in San Diego hospital to plan Tijuana clinic

Thirty years ago Mother Teresa walked out of a hospital in La Jolla to resume her missionary work with the poor after a fight with pneumonia and heart disease.

From the San Diego Tribune, Thursday, January 16, 1992:

Mother Teresa used stay in hospital to plan clinic

By Susan Duerksen, Tribune Health Writer

From her hospital bed in La Jolla, Mother Teresa began planning her next project — a mobile health clinic for the poor of Tijuana.

A sign-up sheet tacked to her door at Scripps Clinic’s Green Hospital filled up during the last few days with the names of doctors, nurses and social workers willing to volunteer for the effort.

At an overflowing news conference just before she left the hospital yesterday, Mother Teresa implored San Diegans to take more responsibility for alleviating the poverty and suffering in Tijuana.

“I would like you all to realize that the people of Tijuana need tender love and care,” she said. “It is very important we all realize that they are our brothers and sisters, and we owe them that love and care.”

Glowing with pride at the vigor of their 81-year-old patient, Mother Teresa’s doctors said she has affected them greatly during her 20-day hospitalization for pneumonia and heart disease.

“When you make rounds on Mother Teresa, you’re not just talking about the heart and lungs,” said Dr. Paul Teirstein, director of interventional cardiology at Scripps. “She doesn’t let you get away with that. You spend a lot of time listening to her talk about the suffering in the world and the disadvantaged and disenfranchised people. It opens your eyes. In that sense, she’s been an inspiration to a number of physicians.”

Dr. Patricia Aubanel, a Tijuana cardiologist who has been Mother Teresa’s primary doctor throughout her stay, said she will organize the mobile clinic for the poor of Tijuana.

Dr. Charles Edwards, Scripps Clinic president and chief executive officer, said the prestigious institution — which doesn’t accept indigent or Medi-Cal patients — will contribute in some way to the mobile clinic.

“The details haven’t been worked out, but I think it’s something we will play a role in,” Edwards said. “This woman has an unbelievable impact on an institution like this.”

Mother Teresa is expected back at Scripps Clinic in a week or two for tests, just before she leaves Tijuana for New York and then Rome. She also has promised to return in six months for a checkup of her coronary arteries, because she plans to spend June in Tijuana anyway, Teirstein said.

At her news conference, Mother Teresa said she feels “much better, thank God.” Asked whether she would take better care of herself to prevent future illness, she responded, “Oh sure, sure.”

The doctors said Mother Teresa now is very healthy, although she remains at a small and decreasing risk of complications from the procedures she underwent to clear her clogged arteries. A metal stent, or scaffolding, implanted to hold open one of her arteries could cause blood clots, or scar tissue from the balloon angioplasty that cleared the vessels could clog them again, Teirstein said, but both risks are remote.

“Now she’s better, probably, than she was a year ago,” he said. “She’s a healthy woman. There’s nothing about her medical condition that should prevent her from carrying on like she’s carried on for the last 10 years.”

Teirstein, 36 years old, said implanting the delicate stent in the woman considered a saint by much of the world was one of the most stressful experiences of his life. He said he knew devotees everywhere were praying for Mother Teresa, but suddenly realized his own role when he emerged from the operating room.

“The sisters said, ‘You realize how many people around the world were praying for you, doctor?’ That was awe-inspiring,” he said.

Mother Teresa expressed deep gratitude for the care she received at Scripps Clinic, where officials have said the hospital will absorb the costs of her treatment.

“I accept whatever God gives me,” Mother Teresa said. “Tomorrow if I have to go to a very poor hospital, I will be just as happy because I’m sure there, too, I will receive love.”

During the last week, Mother Teresa usually has invited two or three very ill patients into her room for her daily Mass, doctors said. Yesterday, she and the three doctors celebrated Mass with Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles just before she braved a room packed with reporters and TV cameras and then returned to Tijuana.

The nun’s arrival at the Missionaries of Charity’s Casa Beato Juan Diego in Tijuana — a combination nunnery and home for the elderly behind the city’s main bus depot — was a quiet affair witnessed by few outsiders.

Two dozen young seminarians from the order arrived by foot from their nearby college to greet the nun whose work amid the downtrodden brought her international recognition and a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Griselda Gomez de Razo and her sister, Lourdes Breekke, who happened to be delivering donated clothing and food when Mother Teresa arrived, were ecstatic.

“She could have stayed in San Diego in a nicer, more luxurious place, but she chose to come down here to be among the sick and needy — that’s why she’s special,” said Gomez. “She knows she’s needed here the most.”

Tribune staff writer Fernando Romero contributed to this report.



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