They Embody It

Growing up in the farm town of Bowbells, North Dakota, Debbi Warren game down with rheumatic fever when was four years old.

The diagnosis put her in the hospital, bedridden, for almost a year. Debbi got to know her nurses. She thought they were “pretty cool.”

The extensive exposure to health care planted a seed. “I thought—I want to be that someday. Being around the medical profession back then, I loved it,” she says. “I could see how they cared for me, and I thought maybe someday I’ll get there.”

Later, in high school, Debbi worked as a certified nurse’s aide over the summer. This was after she moved to Mount Shasta, California. In part, the job was to help put some gas in her car but, again, Debbi noted the “incredibly passionate” health care providers. “It re-sparked that flame,” she says. “I knew what I wanted to do.”

With that goal in mind, Debbi headed first to Oregon Institute of Technology and earned her associate’s degree in medical imagining. For years, she worked as imaging technologist and frequently found herself in the emergency room.

But in the middle of a “very traumatic” summer in 1989, Debbi says she “had a moment.”

Assisting the doctors who were treating the teenage victims of a car crash, Debbi was overwhelmed.

“It was just a lot of trauma, a really amazing amount, so I came home one day and told my husband I needed to change careers,” Debbi recalls. “I needed my brain to get cleaned out a little bit, and I wanted to work with people who were not sick and hurt.”

Debbi resigned.

Within two weeks, she was accepted into a teachers’ program at Southern Oregon University. After getting her license, Debbi started in middle school, teaching science. Then she moved to high school and taught anatomy and chemistry, among other subjects. Along the way, Debbi also earned her Master of Science Education degree from S.O.U.

At the time, teachers in her high school used cat dissection to teach anatomy. Debbi has one choice word for that process: “Ugh.”

One day at a National Science Teacher Association conference in Reno, she spotted the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System's booth. Debbi took a short workshop at the conference and realized the benefits immediately. “As soon as I started building those arm muscles, I thought, I can do this and my students can do this.”

Debbi bought a Maniken® model and took it took it into her classroom at North Medford High School. “They swarmed it like bees,” she recalls. “If they can see it and touch it and make it, they get it.”

One of Debbi’s students was the son of an orthopedic surgeon but had his sights set on becoming a fashion designer. “So he took the class, and every time we built the muscles of the leg especially, he would draw me a picture and give it to me and say, ‘Mrs. Warren, this is what these pants would look like on your leg.’ It was phenomenal, and he’s gone on to be quite a good fashion designer.”

Another female student with muscular dystrophy came to Debbi’s class in a wheelchair. She didn’t think she could take the class but Debbi reassured her, fashioning a tray so she could sit and build.

Today, that student is a speech pathologist. “I can remember her mother saying, ‘thank you so much. You’ve built her self-confidence.’ A lot of that is the hands-on, because here she is being able to move her hands pretty well and being able to work with kids.”