The nurses at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale often joked that they hated taking over the day shift after one of nurse Christine Lee’s night shifts on the Level 1 Trauma ward.
“The patients just loved her. You’d spend the rest of your day caring for these very sick patients who just kept asking when was Chris coming back to them. She was that good,” said charge nurse Laci Ourada. “She was the most selfless person that we have ever encountered. An angel.”
Lee, the daughter of an electrician and wedding planner in Buffalo, was a candy striper in high school and “always wanted to be a nurse,” said her sister, Amy Spoors. After years raising three kids and working as a nurse’s assistant in nursing homes in Washington state and Buffalo Hospital, where she was born (with the help of her nurse grandmother), Lee got her wish.
Lee earned her nursing degree from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul in 2014 and went on to care for 1,000 patients as a nurse at North Memorial. She died there Monday after a long battle with colon cancer. She was 50.
“She was really well loved by the people she worked with and the patients she cared for,” said her son, Markus Lee, 25. “She was just always a really good caretaker.”
Lee usually cooked for 12, even though she lived alone. Years ago, she got used to feeding her three kids and all their friends and never ditched the habit. She would make hot dishes, lentil soup, chicken wild rice and meatloaf.
Her cooking passion even seeped into her reading hobby. Her favorite books? “Gone With the Wind,” the Bible and murder mysteries that have recipes throughout. “That was exactly up her alley,” Spoors said. Reading was the one thing she did for herself.
Divorce? Chemo? “You would never know what she was going through. Nurses here had no idea,” said friend and nurse Aly Vandenheuvel. “She spent her time and energy on people she loved and being an advocate” for other nurses.
Lee graduated from Buffalo High School in 1987 and attended Seattle Pacific University. At age 21, she married the Washington state boy who spent his summers with his grandparents in Buffalo. Mark Lee IV became a Marine and the couple moved to North Carolina, where they had two daughters. Her husband was deployed to the Gulf War. Upon his return, they moved to Shoreline, Wash., and had their son. Times were tough as Lee juggled her then-husband’s military assignments.
“It was a stressful time for her. She would go to bed when we [kids] went to bed and then get up at 3 in the morning to do housework and prepare meals,” son Markus said. She moved back to Minnesota in 2003 and worked as a nurse’s assistant at Buffalo Hospital.
She worked at her dream job at North Memorial until two weeks before her death, when cancer complications landed her as a patient there. The woman who never complained had visitors nonstop. Last month, when lab tests signaled the disease was getting worse, Markus and his wife, Abigael, had a chance to do something just for Lee. They packed up the car with her and their baby, June, and headed for Waco, Texas — the home of HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines.
“It was really special,” her son said. “She connected with the couple and really liked their show. It gave her a lot of hope because the show was all about restoration. She loved it. It was so special to get that time with her, and for her to be with her granddaughter, who she loved.”
Survivors also include her mother, Sharon Spoors; and daughters Katie Lee and Becca Lee. Funeral services have been held.