Be the Change: Patty Leal – Serving with Love & Respect

art-515-btc1 Patty Leal, public health nurse for Siskiyou County Public Health, likes to add her own final words to the quotation above: “because you were there for them.”

As an advocate and educator for families with new babies and for breastfeeding mothers, Patty is known and recognized for “being there” for her clients.

Kathryn O’Malley, who serves as the supervisor for the tri-county Nurse Family Partnership that includes Siskiyou, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, says, “I’ve never met anyone who has such ease with families. Patty remembers what’s important to them and enters into personal conversations about their everyday lives. She tailors the educational information we share to the needs of each individual family.”

From an early age, Patty knew that she wanted to serve in the medical profession. Her father was a urologist and her mother a community nurse. She saw the dedication her parents had for their work and wanted to experience that in her own career.

Patty was raised in Sacramento and attended University of California, Davis, where she met her future husband, Ken. As a junior, she transferred to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, where she graduated with her nursing degree.

Following graduation, she was hired as a pediatric rehabilitation nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Patty worked with children with injuries and chronic illnesses who needed multi-disciplinary services before they could go home. Although she enjoyed the work, she desired an opportunity to work in public health nursing in a rural setting.

In 1980, Patty and Ken moved to Yreka, where Ken had been raised. “We knew that city living was not what we wanted,” Patty says. “We wanted to change our lifestyle and live a more natural life.” Ken took a job as a laboratory technologist and researcher at Siskiyou General Hospital, and Patty was offered a job as a public health nurse at Siskiyou County Health Department working with California Children’s Services assisting special needs children.

After the birth of their first child in 1981, Patty decided not to return to full-time employment. She started a licensed day care in their home and ran it for two and a half years.

art-515-btc2Always open to new possibilities, Patty later became acquainted with Siskiyou Child Care Council, Siskiyou County’s local child abuse prevention agency, and was hired to help pilot a new program for first-time moms, providing in-home education and early intervention to families.

It was during that time Patty recognized her passion for childbirth and breastfeeding education. She began teaching childbirth classes and conducted newborn home visits. “I brought resources, respect and strength-based care to families,” she says.

This has remained one of her hallmarks. Patty Brown, director of Head Start for the Kuruk Tribe in Happy Camp and Yreka says, “Patty works with some of the most challenging families. This is her passion. She looks for the family’s strengths and builds on those while also providing new information.”

Sarah Nova, Patty’s daughter and the third generation of nurses in the family, agrees. “My mother is an advocate for her clients and empowers them to be better for their families. She is a role model and great example for me and for others.”

art-515-btc3Patty’s passion for advocating for breastfeeding grew when she developed a breast milk donor program to help a local mother in 1982. She later served on the Siskiyou Breastfeeding Task Force and assisted in the initiation of the Siskiyou County Fair’s baby-friendly rest area.

Patty is now looking forward to retirement and more family time. “My family has always come first,” she says. She and Ken have five adult children and recently welcomed their seventh grandchild, Blake Charles, born March 29.

The couple has purchased a home in Crescent City. “We are preparing it to be a gathering space for friends and family,” says Patty. She will still do volunteer work related to her career. Among her plans are working with Choices, a faith-based organization offering support and education to pregnant women and new parents.

As well as her passion for educating new parents, Patty enjoys mountain biking with her husband and gardening. Her faith is important to her. “Many times, you, an individual, are the ‘Bible’ people read. I model that by how I live my life.”

Patty Leal can be contacted at Siskiyou Public Health at (530) 841-2123.

Carolyn Warnemuende
About Carolyn Warnemuende

Author Carolyn Warnemuende has two daughters and five grandchildren, and lives with her husband in Redding. She writes parenting and educational articles, sponsors a school in Uganda, and visits Africa twice a year. She receives great joy in taking daily care of her four-year-old granddaughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

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