As a nurse, Ruth Amador, HCC Class of 2005, believes in what she calls the "preservation of life."
That principle has guided her both personally and professionally.
She works as a registered nurse at Hartford Hospital in the medical and infectious disease unit. At Wing Memorial Hospital in Palmer she is on the Visiting Nurses Association hospice team. In addition, she works as a community public health nurse.
She holds two bachelor's degrees, one from Boston College (psychology) and one from Elms College (nursing), and a master's degree in nursing from Elms.
She is the co-founder of the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
Beyond work, in May 2013, Amador made what many might consider to be the ultimate sacrifice in support of life. She donated part of her liver to save the life of a close friend who needed a liver transplant.
"I knew I was healthy enough and I believe in life preservation," she said. "Because of my spiritual beliefs and my religious beliefs and just my humanity, I became a living organ donor."
Amador now considers herself a spokesperson for organ donation and visited the HCC campus earlier this month in recognition of National Minority Organ Donation Week. Her goal is to bring more attention to organ donation and raise awareness about its importance in saving lives, particularly in minority communities.
"There are so few minority organ donors," said Amador, who was born in Puerto Rico and now lives in Springfield. "There are a lot of misconceptions out there. A lot of Hispanics are very religious and a lot of people believe the body should remain intact after death and so you shouldn't donate your organs because they need to go with you to the afterlife."
But based on her own research about organ donation, Amador said, and contrary to what some people believe, "across the board, most - I'm not going to say all - religions support" organ donation.
"So there is a lot of work that needs to be done on awareness and challenging misconceptions," she said, "but not a lot of people to deliver the information."
Her preliminary experience with organ donation was simply as a registered organ donor, she said. This is something anyone can sign up for and have noted a driver's license.
When her friend of 20 years was dying of cancer, she made a life-saving decision. Fortunately, she and her friend were a match. "It was very unusual. It's very difficult to match people. What I find so touching is that we are two people from two different cultures. My friend is a Caucasian. I am Hispanic."
After a year and a half, her friend is still cancer free.
"He has lived a year plus and has been able to celebrate marriage anniversaries, holidays, milestones and events. I'm thankful to God for that," she said.
Earlier this year, nearly coinciding with the one-year anniversary of her liver transplant surgery Amador participated in the first annual LifeChoice Blue & Green Walk/Run, raising more than $2,000 for organ donation.
"It was very therapeutic," she said. "I met hundreds of people who were touched by organ donation. People who have donated. Family members who made the choice to donate the organs of a loved one who died tragically. People who have lived and been given a second chance at life."
Her work as a nurse ranges from prevention and treatment to palliative care for people who are dying. Prior to her attending nursing school at Holyoke Community College, Amador worked as a funeral director, a career she sought because it combined her academic background in science and psychology with her interest in becoming a business owner.
She attended the New England Institute at Mount Ida in Newton for her degree in funeral services and worked as an embalmer and funeral director at Henderson's Funeral Home in Springfield and La Rosa Funeral Home in Holyoke, the latter which serves a predominately Hispanic population, she said.
She still maintains her license as a funeral director and embalmer.
"I've been very busy in my career, but it's all interrelated," she said.
Even as a funeral director, she said, the thread of life preservation is apparent.
"I see a connection," she said, "because in funeral directing there are so many aspects to it, because you prepare the deceased, the loved one, but in reality the people you work most with are the living people who are left behind."
"When you have a family that you know were givers or allowed their deceased loved one to give the gift of life - I give lots of credit to those family members because it's not an easy thing," she said. "That's joyous for me, when they give people a second chance to live."
Photos: (Left) Ruth Amador, HCC nursing class of 2005, during a recent visit to HCC. (Right) Amador participated in the first annual LifeChoice Blue & Green Run/Walk for organ donation earlier this year.