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Is there a person in your life that continually shows up for others, even when they are in need? Melisa Quintanilla is no stranger to helping her community despite being the one deserving praise. This Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse at Ascension All Saints, 3801 Spring Street, continually chooses to put Racine before herself.

There is no doubt that helping the community is in Quintanilla’s blood. Her father, Robert Quintanilla, was the first Hispanic Racine Police Officer in town. Undoubtedly, he is the reason why Melisa chooses to be a nurse and serve others.

Like Father, Like Daughter

Melissa says, “I wanted to be a cop like my dad.”

She grew up knowing the impact that her father had on the community of Racine because of his service. When she was 12 years old, her father passed away. Prior to this tragic loss, Melisa asked her father if he’d like any of his children to follow in his footsteps. He advised his children to become a doctor, nurse, teacher, or lawyer.

Robert said to find “a job that you are not putting your life on the line every time you walk out the door.” He worked as a patrol officer, then in community relations, and even as a detective. Up until his death, he served as an investigator in the Racine Police Department’s Metro Drug Unit.

Her father’s legacy is so extraordinary that there is even a COP House named after him. It is located at 1140 Geneva Street. If Melisa couldn’t be an officer, becoming a nurse was the next best thing. It was something he wanted for her.

Becoming A Nurse

Melisa is living up to her father’s name as a healthcare worker. Before becoming a nurse, Melisa was a part of the first HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) group at Washington Park High School. While in high school, she became a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and was an intern at Ascension All Saints.

From there, she earned her Bachelors’s degree in Nursing from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her career as a nurse started at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Once this nurse began to have a family of her own, she relocated back to Racine for work.

Melisa Quintanilla celebrates serving in the NICU for 18 years this month. Melisa reflects on her time and says, ” I think being a NICU nurse can be very challenging and very rewarding.  You are not only taking care of a new life, but you are also taking care of a family unit. Bringing a baby into this world is a big event in someone’s life, but it can be a very stressful time too.  It doesn’t always go the way we planned it and that is where I came in.”

A Family Affair

Melisa and her mother, breast cancer survivors

Melisa takes care of other families constantly, but she never falls short of taking care of her own. As a mother of Jalina, Raelea, Cayven, Melanie, Ellarae and Quillen, she is always on the go. Her unwavering support to her family speaks volumes about who she is. One moment in her families history really tested her strength.

On September 17, 2013, Melisa’s mother was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer on her birthday. Melisa’s mother underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 30+ rounds of radiation at the cancer center at Ascension All Saints. While nearing the end of her mother’s treatment, Melisa didn’t know that she soon would be starting her own course of action.

Melisa was dealing with cysts in her breasts for about year, and then it progressed to everyone’s worst nightmare. Being the loving daughter that she is, she wanted to care for her mother before dealing with her own battle. She assisted her mother, but when it was time for her mother’s mammogram, her mother refused to take action unless her daughter did too.

Serving Who Served Her

Melisa was diagnosed one year and one month after her mom on October 13, 2014. What felt like chances that would never happen in a million years were actually happening to her. As a nurse, caregiver, and now patient, she never thought twice about where she wanted to receive treatment and by who.

She says “Dr. Engel and his staff at the cancer center had become a part of our family over the past year and I knew I would get the best treatment there.” So she buckled up and gave it her all to fight breast cancer.

During the fight for her life, she became vocal about her experience with cancer from both the patient, caregiver, and healthcare worker point of view. In March 2015, she finished chemotherapy and had a double mastectomy in April of that year. Her cancer journey was not done there. It’s been her mission to focus on serving those who served her.

Breast Cancer Awareness

Never missing a beat, Melisa saddled up to raise awareness for a disease that became such a focal part of her family’s life. There are countless ways that this hero has given back including selling Breast cancer awareness T-shirts, donating to the HOPE Fund at Ascension, and becoming a member of the Pink Paddling Power Dragon boat team.

Melisa in the dragon boat for the first time

According to the Pink Paddling Power website, their mission is “is to provide an opportunity for education about Breast Cancer Survivorship as well as training and competing in the sport of Dragon Boat Racing. In addition, the Pink Paddling Power Dragon Boat Team and its members will serve to support and promote the recreational and health benefits of Dragon Boat racing for Breast Cancer Survivors and act as ambassadors for Ascension All Saints Cancer Care and the Racine community.”

As a cancer survivor, she qualified to be a part of a team much bigger than herself, known as PPP. A coworker actually introduced her to the group. However, Melisa wasn’t always gung-ho. It’s why Melisa decided to wear a dress to a practice that she was invited to. That didn’t stop the group of survivors from getting Melisa in the boat. Now, being on the water is one of her favorite places to be.

Powering Through as a Pink Paddler

The Pink Paddling Power team at a community event.

She says, “I was put in the very front of the boat and from that day I have been hooked.  I have been a Pink Paddling member for the past four years now and have loved the sisterhood and opportunities it has given me. The ladies in my boat are truly my survivor sisters. We are a support group that not only work together in the boat but also outside the boat.”

This team even traveled to Florence, Italy to participate in a breast cancer festival. On the horizon, they hope to attend breast cancer festival in New Zealand in 2022. Melisa and the team are crossing their fingers that COVID-19 doesn’t stop it from happening.

One of Many Heroes

Melisa is one of many heroes. Through her involvement in dragon boat racing, she’s become active in the community. This quality that Melisa posses shows just how heroic she is. She’s actively involved in different events such as fundraisers, highway clean up duties, packing care packages for Veterans, and even serving at the hospitality center in Downtown Racine.

Most recently, Melisa has become known as a hero for her involvement in supporting COVID-19 workers. While she works countless shifts caring for sick babies, she’s also concerned about the current COVID-19 pandemic and how it effects healthcare workers.

When Melisa was ill herself, families from all over Racine County served her with hot meals every night through treatment. She says, “I am forever in debt to my Racine community.” Now, it’s become her personal mission to give, especially to those fighting on the frontlines.

Car decorated for Flashing First Friday event at Ascension All Saints to show support to healthcare workers

Leader in Action

In April of 2020, Melisa organized an event called Flashing First Fridays. The community came out to the hospital to show the staff their appreciation. Racine showed up in numbers with over 1,200 cars, lights flashing, signs and honking their horns for the staff. Read about the story here.

Melisa has seen how COVID-19 has effected families who are having babies. Mothers are tested for COVID-19 before giving birth. If they have the virus, they are unable to see their children in the NICU. She says ” We have a very vulnerable population that we are caring for in the NICU, which means that I have to make good decisions at work and outside of work.”

Melisa delivering baskets to staff members

She’s using her time outside of work to help those who are being severely affected by COVID-19. The NICU team started collecting snacks and small tokens to donate to adult units that are overwhelmed. This began in March. Now, Melisa has opened this opportunity to the community.

Using social media, Melisa reaches out asking for basket contributions. If you are interested in donating, contact Melisa via Facebook by clicking here. People drop off snacks at her house or also send monetary donations. Melisa uses the funds to shop for what is needed to fill the baskets.

 “Racine is an amazing community that has always come through for me,” says the nurse. Reach out to her by clicking here. Melisa Quintanilla is the epitome of who a Racine County Eye Hometown Hero is. To support her, give if possible, but also do your part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Fighting COVID-19

Everyone is able to be a part of fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. Ways that make a difference are:

  • Wash hands/sanitize
  • Wear a mask
  • Socially distance
  • Thank a healthcare work
  • Quarantine when exposed to COVID-19 or if suspicious of having the virus
  • Nominate a healthcare hero to be the Racine County Eye Hometown Hero of the Week

Nominate a Hero

Click here to nominate a Healthcare Hero. Share your story on the Racine County Eye and thank a hero. Check out other stories of heroism, by clicking here. Contact Emma Widmar at for more information about the series.

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