Recent Master of Nursing graduate Juana Gallegos' idea to help dementia patients landed her an audience with a queen.
Juana Gallegos is going to meet the Queen.
Specifically, she is going to meet Queen Silvia of Sweden during a ceremony in the Scandinavian nation. “It feels unreal,” said Gallegos.
Juana is traveling to Sweden to be formally recognized on May 11 as the 2022 recipient of the UW Queen Silvia Nursing Scholar Award. Established in 2013, the award honors innovative ideas and solutions to improve quality of care for older adults and people living with dementia. Last year marked the first time the award was open to nursing students in the United States.
Juana recently completed her master of nursing degree at UW Tacoma. For the Queen Silvia award, she proposed developing a smart video app that would support dementia patients by allowing them to ask questions and hear AI generated responses that are informed by answers submitted by family members. “I wanted something that would help patient’s healthcare run more smoothly while also providing reassurance to those living with dementia," she said.
Born in California, Juana spent her early years living in the Golden State and Las Vegas. “I’m the oldest of six siblings,” she said. The family struggled at times. “I didn’t realize until I was older that there were multiple occasions when we could have been considered homeless.”
Juana’s mother raised the kids primarily by herself. “My mom came to this country from Mexico when she was fifteen,” said Juana. “She had to go to work to help support the family and didn’t get a chance to finish high school.”
Juana did complete high school. Afterwards, she enrolled in the Air Force. “Honestly, I joined the military because I wanted an education and knew that would be the only way to pay for it,” she said. “There were no resources for me and I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in life with no options.”
Juana worked in information technology (IT) while in the military. “I absolutely hated it,” she said. “I didn’t get a chance to interact with people in a positive manner, I only ever got angry customers who were having issues with their server or with their IT. I wanted something where I could talk to people and feel like I could make a positive change.”
Juana stayed in the military for four years. She spent part of that time in Nebraska, where she met her future husband. “He was also in the military and applied for a special position at Joint Base Lewis-McChord,” she said. “He got it. That was in 2013 and we’ve been here ever since.”
Juana started working on her associate’s degree in Nebraska. She picked up where she left off once she arrived in Washington. “I calculated it with my husband and I was in college for about 12 years,” she said. “There were times where I took a full-load and times when I could only take one class.”
The mother of three took two breaks during those 12 years. “The first time was when I bought a business. I own an adult family home in Vancouver, Washington,” she said. Managing the business, requires Juana to travel to Vancouver weekly. “I’m in Tacoma two to three days a week and in Vancouver the rest of the time,” she said. Juana also currently works as an adjunct nursing clinical instructor at Green River College.
The second break from school happened after Juana had her third child. Outside of these two instances, she’s has been in class steadily progressing towards her educational goals. Juana earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Northwest University in 2017. “We lived in Puyallup at the time and I had to drive to Kirkland for my classes at Northwest,” she said. “So, pretty much every day I’d spend three-and-a-half hours in the car just going back and forth.”