For most families, by the time they are expecting their second child, they are already experienced veterans with the whole delivery event. Since they are birth-experience veterans, parents are usually not as nervous because everyone knows what to expect. It is more or less routine. The father helps coach the mother and tries to keep her focused and calm; some dads even cut the umbilical cord as their first official parenting act. It happens regularly every day across the country — then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and healthcare was suddenly anything but routine.
For Zach and Amanda Threlkeld, they were excited about the impending arrival of their second son. Because of visitation restrictions due to COVID-19, they already knew that Zach could not be in the room during Amanda’s cesarean section. They were disappointed, but they understood that the restrictions were in place to protect patients and visitors, as well as the medical team.
“I was told about a week before my son’s delivery,” Amanda said. “I was upset because I wanted him to experience the birth as well. I knew the restrictions were in place for everyone’s protection, and I was able to mentally prepare for him not being in the room.”
However, that was when Wellington Regional Medical Center nurse anesthetist Robert Stroud had an idea. He would connect Amanda and Zach through FaceTime and hold the phone so Zach could be part of the birth process. Zach was thrilled, and Amanda felt relieved as well.
“It made me comfortable that Zach would not be left out,” Amanda said. “He could still talk to me and calm me down, which made me feel a lot better.”
William Case was born that day weighing 9 pounds, 13 ounces and has joined his big brother James Ryan, 2, to make the Threlkeld home just a little more crowded. However, with a new baby in the house, nobody in the Threlkeld family wants to miss any part of William’s milestones. And because of the quick thinking of Stroud, Zach did not miss William’s biggest milestone — his birth.
A Meaningful Life
Beth Eyestone was a giver. As a licensed mental health counselor who primarily specialized in sexual abuse, she was quick to smile and the first to raise her hand to volunteer. She was selfless with her time and always wanted to help people… and in the end, that is exactly what she did — help others.
Tragically, Beth died at WRMC on Memorial Day in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic after she suffered a significant stroke. Before her death, she had made her wishes to her husband clear. She wanted her last act to be the ultimate gift — she wanted to be an organ donor.
Allen Eyestone, her husband for 31 years, knew his wife was a hero, but what he found in those last few minutes of her life was that she was also surrounded by nursing heroes who were committed to honoring Beth for her generous gift. As the transport team arrived and was preparing her, a dozen or more nurses who had been involved in her care gathered in Beth’s room, and Allen was encouraged to tell them about her life.
And he did. He focused on how she had committed her life to helping others, and the donation was just one more selfless act in a lifetime of service to others. Eventually the donation preparations were complete, and the time had come.
“Everybody was crying, and all the nurses in her room came to attention as they began to take her from the ICU to the operating room,” Allen said. “As we walked down the hallway, another 10 to 15 nurses on the unit came out of the rooms and stood at attention as we passed. They all thanked us as we passed. It was very moving.”
During a devastating time, the nurses were a comfort.
“The nurses changed my life because I had no family there with me. But I realized I did have my family there, and they were the nurses at Wellington Regional,” Allen said. “Nobody could have acknowledged her the way they did. I felt so honored that I could say goodbye how I did because of the nurses.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, good could came from a terrible situation, as Beth eventually donated both her kidneys, her liver and her eyes so others could have a better life.
She was a hero, but Allen believes the Honor Walk and the way the nurses treated both Beth and himself at the end, made them heroes, too.
Protecting The Protectors
When thinking about healthcare heroes, it is easy to picture frontline caregivers, like physicians, nurses or respiratory therapists performing lifesaving medical procedures on critically ill patients. But there are other departments in the hospital that are vital in protecting direct patient caregivers and allowing them to safely focus on their critical duties.
Wellington Regional Medical Center uses an inventory method called Just in Time (JIT). The principle of the strategy is to keep a reduced amount of supplies stockpiled and replace them just as they are being used. That meant the hospital had about a week of supplies, like personal protective equipment (PPE), on hand when the full scope of the pandemic was understood.
Jim Watson, director of supply chain at WRMC, knew that there were only a few days of certain types of PPE stockpiled. The hospital needed to change its supply chain operations from JIT to stockpiling PPE. And it needed to do it quickly.
“The minute they announced the travel bans, we saw the writing on the wall and started to act,” Watson said. “We reached out to our home office and started the process of increasing our orders. Many of those items were backordered, so we began to activate local options while the national supply chains were opening. That local level of supplies secured us about a month of PPE, by then the national external support through the home office began to kick in. We also can’t underestimate the importance of private donations of homemade masks and shields to help protect our staff in the early phases of the pandemic.”
As part of the plan to protect PPE, WRMC sequestered the excess equipment, removed supply boxes from the floors and instituted a checkout system to reduce the amount of waste. Slowly, between the newly opened supply lines and the protection of existing PPE, the supplies began to increase. With increased PPE supplies came protection for the medical staff and patients.
“As a company, it was a combined logistical effort between each facility of Universal Health Services (UHS), the home office,” Watson said. “It was an insane amount of work and coordination with the home office and the hospital to find certain things and get them allocated to the units. I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did a few months ago.”
Heroes come in many shapes and sizes, but a crisis usually brings out the best in people. But one thing is for certain, the way the healthcare industry has responded to the worldwide pandemic has been inspirational. Putting their personal health and lives on the line each day to care for patients during the most vulnerable moments of a person’s life may be all in a day’s work for healthcare providers, but for the people who depend on them for their health, the commitment has been inspiring.