PURCHASE, N.Y. (PIX11) – Turning pain into purpose was a no-brainer for Emily Estrella.

“I think being able to care for someone who is at their most vulnerable [point] is something that I find very humbling,” Estrella said.

The elementary school Spanish teacher switched careers to become a nurse after the death of her 2-year-old daughter Olivia.

At just 5 days old, Olivia had open-heart surgery and spent her life in and out of the hospital being treated for a congenital heart defect. 

Inspired by the care she and her family received from the nurses, Estrella now works at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City in the pediatric intensive care unit where her daughter spent some of her last days.

“After she passed away, I said, ‘How can I repay this?’” Estrella recalled. “I just had so much gratitude.”

Estrella lives in White Plains and received her education at Manhattanville College’s School of Nursing in Purchase in Westchester County. The nursing program offers a traditional four-year program or a second bachelor’s degree program, which is what Estrella completed.

“It’s a 15-month program, so they go for 15 months and then they graduate,” said Jo-Marie Di Battista, an assistant professor of nursing at the college. “That is a very rigorous program. I give her a lot of credit because she has done this even with what she has gone through.”

“Priority, time management, and support is what got me through this, but I loved my school experience,” Estrella added.

The care Estrella provides to her young patients is personal, so she naturally takes it one step further.

“Being a source of support for them as someone who understands exactly what it is like to be in their shoes,” Estrella said.

As a mother who has experienced grief, Estrella is a shining light for those families and her two other children, Mila, 3, and Oliver, who is 9 months old.