Compassion. Scientific knowledge. A desire to help others. Joan Tufuor, a senior nursing major, knows that these are critical traits to being a good nurse. She’s learned them from her family—her mother, aunts, cousins and sisters are all nurses. She’s seen the traits in her faculty mentors at UB’s School of Nursing, who are able to show vulnerability even as they provide holistic care. And now, as a recipient of the Tracey I. Wheeler Scholarship, she helps further the legacy of its namesake, a beloved nurse who embodied these traits during her meaningful life and career, but one that was cut short.
On Oct. 30, 2007, Tracey Irene Wheeler passed away of sudden cardiac death at home in her backyard at age 45. A registered nurse who specialized in critical care, burn care and emergency medicine, Tracey left her two children, Haley and Jackson, and her husband of 18 years, Robert (Bob), wondering how they could go on.
Bob, who graduated with an exercise science degree in 1987 from the School of Public Health and Health Professions, met Tracey, a fellow trainer and fitness buff, during his first week working at a health club near UB’s North Campus.
Bob recalls life with Tracey with awe, gratitude and humor. He notes her determination to get an education, which led her out of her large, tight-knit family’s economically depressed neighborhood on Buffalo’s East Side. He still laughs out loud at how her fun-loving, passionate personality helped her more reserved, career-focused husband “lighten up” and endeared her to her co-workers.
“A lot of brilliant doctors don’t always deliver great care because they don’t connect to the patient and help them open up,” he explains. “Tracey was really good at that.” She especially enjoyed working at the burn center, often moonlighting in home care to finish treatments and forming close relationships with her patients and their families.
A love of philanthropy began to take root in Bob’s memories of Tracey. “I like getting involved in things I think will make the world a better place,” he says.
In 2015, Bob established the Tracey I. Wheeler Scholarship, an endowed fund at the UB School of Nursing. Since his initial $25,000, he has generously made additional donations totaling $21,500 and has pledged $100,000 more as a bequest.
The scholarship now provides annual tuition support to undergraduate nursing students, focusing on those like Tracey coming from disadvantaged Buffalo neighborhoods, or who otherwise may need extra financial help. “As I get older, I’ve become more aware of the inequities in society,” Bob says. “I can appreciate how people like Tracey pull themselves up from poverty to get an education.”
Nursing student Joan Tufuor (right), a senior, feels honored to be the recipient of the Wheeler Scholarship, which she says not only removes a financial burden to let her engage fully on her nursing curriculum, but also drives her to succeed. “Besides the financial support, the scholarship also gives me the motivation to want to work harder, because there is someone out there who believes in me, and I want to make them proud.”