By Bob Dickson
You could say that twin sisters Ardel and Teresa Vietti, born Nov. 5 in 1927, were meant to be healers.
At age seven, they got their first look through a microscope and they were hooked. For years after that, they honed their skills splinting injured chickens from their mother’s truck farm.
But they would not “practice” medicine together for long. When they were 15, sickness put a fork in their road. Ardel went one way; Teresa went the other.
One road led to decades of saving lives through children’s cancer research, the other to the medical and spiritual mission fields of war-torn Vietnam.
One sister became a martyr — a prisoner of war and one of two American women to lose their lives to the Viet Cong. The other sister presses on. Today, she honors her sister with an endowment for Nyack’s infant nursing program.
This is their story.
At 15, Ardel Vietti became very ill in 1942, and her mother was forced to leave Teresa in South America with her dad and travel with Ardel to the United States for treatment. It was a difficult, but necessary step along the road that God was laying out for Ardel
“She almost died,” Teresa explains. “She was 15 years old at the time. She became very religious after this episode.”
Ardel’s brush with death brought her to the Lord. From then on, she burned with the desire to serve Him. She told her parents she wanted to be a missionary. Her parents, who had witnessed her love of medicine from an early age, suggested a compromise.
“My parents insisted she become a medical missionary,” Teresa says. “They knew that with medical training she would be able to do so much more.”
And so it was that both sisters attended Rice Institute in the late 40’s.Teresa, who was a year ahead in school because of Ardel’s illness, graduated in 1949 and continued her medical studies at Baylor, where she earned her doctorate. Ardel graduated a year later, spent a summer studying at Nyack, then earned her doctorate at the University of Texas.
After graduation, Teresa specialized in pediatric blood diseases, the worst and most common of which was cancer of the blood-forming organs (leukemia). Eventually, she became a specialist in all forms of children’s cancer.
“I was looking for a challenge and I found it,” she says. “We were the first on the block to study it.”
Teresa’s work put her on the front lines of the research that yielded much of the treatments leukemia patients receive today. Children diagnosed with this form of cancer still face a long battle, but at least they can battle now.
That is the fruit of Dr. Teresa’s Vietti’s work.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” she admits. “We need a treatment that’s not so poisonous, but still cures the disease. The treatment today still kills more than just the bad cells and it takes so long.”
Eventually, Teresa was named head of the “Pediatric Oncology Group,” an umbrella organization with more than 1,000 doctors dedicated to researching cancer.
Today, that group is known as the “Children’s Oncology Group,” which continues to spearhead the cancer research that gives hope to millions of children and their families.
Ardel, meanwhile, followed God’s call on her life to pursue medical missionary work. After medical college, her internship, and her residency, that call led her to the Christian and Missionary Alliance and a commission to serve in the jungles of Vietnam.
“I always knew Ardel would go to some place like (Vietnam),” Teresa says. “From when she was young, she wanted to go to some distant place and take care of people.”
And take care of them she did. In Vietnam, Dr. Ardel Vietti joined a staff of nine at a Leprosarium in South Vietnam, where she offered medical care to lepers from both sides of the war. She didn’t see borders. She saw people — people who needed medical care and people who needed Christ.
Ardel’s work in Vietnam came to a tragic end in May of 1962, when the Viet Cong entered the Leprosarium and abducted Ardel and two colleagues. Ardel was never found, and it is believed that somewhere in the heart of Vietnam, she met her Savior.
“Ardel gave her life to bring healing to people in the name of Jesus,” says Michael Scales, President of Nyack College. “We are honored to help prepare others to do the same in her name.”
Dr. Teresa Vietti’s gift of $600,000, combined with her father’s $400,000 gift to The Orchard Foundation, will create the “Dr. Vietti Distinguished Chair of Nursing” at Nyack College. The Vietti name, which has been linked with healing for decades through Teresa and Ardel, will continue forever on campus and beyond through the work of a new generation of Christian nurses.
“Going all the way back to 1882, we’ve had many endowed scholarships, however, this is the first endowed chair we’ve ever had at Nyack,” Scales says. “It means our nursing program will continue until the end of the age. It means the Vietti name and commitment to healing will continue at Nyack College. This will create a legacy of healing around the world. Ardel lost her mortal life in Vietnam while serving the poor and needy. Her heart of compassion, however, will live on in the lives of our students and alumni. Dr. Teresa Vietti is making all of this possible.”
“I thought we should spend it on education,” Teresa Vietti says of her gift. “I wanted to give where I knew Ardel would want me too. I’m sure she’d support it. She’d think this is what I should do.”