Healthcare professionals are among those on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many Snead State Community College alumni are counted among the heroes in the medical field.
Tyler Rains, Jami Fregeau, and LeShea Perry shared stories that are representative of what healthcare professionals are facing during the coronavirus pandemic. The aspects of their personal lives have been changed, and yet they offer their knowledge and training to care for others during an uncertain time.
Tyler Rains from Modesto, Calif., comes from a family of healthcare professionals, many of whom graduated from Snead State. His stepmother is a nurse who teaches at Northeast Alabama Community College in Rainsville. His aunt and cousins were students in Snead State’s nursing program. Tyler, formerly of Boaz, graduated from the Snead State Nursing Program in 2012
Tyler is one of many nurses who has done whatever is necessary to ensure the health and safety of the community. One gesture he’s made to show his commitment to his patients may seem small but was nonetheless a tough and essential decision – the choice to shave off his full beard.
“It was a hard decision to get rid of the beard, but necessary at this time. We are in short supply with (personal protective equipment), as with the rest of the country, so I shaved to save the few (powered air purifying respirator) hoods we have left for necessary procedures.”
Tyler said he is proud to be representing his alma mater as a healthcare professional. “I would do anything for (Snead State Community College). I’m glad to have had the opportunity to attend such a great program that has put me in a position to help others.”
A 2011 nursing graduate, Jami Fregeau, formerly of Guntersville, shares Tyler’s sentiment. She has been an ICU nurse since October 2011, specializing in Neuro ICU beginning in 2012. Though she loved any work involving the brain, she stepped away in July 2019 to work as a rapid response nurse at UNC REX Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“UNC REX was realistic about how hard our area would be hit with this virus. During the time of code census, the facility emptied out an old ICU and changed it into a unit for all COVID-19 positive patients. Every room has negative pressure, there is a special process to enter the unit and the exit is in a different place to minimize the exposure and contamination. Protocols have been put in place for when patients deteriorate and how staff (rapid response team included) are to enter and in what order.
“Prior to the diagnosis of COVID-19, patients who have been tested are placed in a wing of a floor that is closed off from the rest of the hospital to reduce the chance of exposure. As a rapid response nurse, we look at the trend of the vital signs and lab values of the confirmed and those who have been tested as a rule out. We specifically pay attention to their oxygen demands. If we notice a trend that the requirement is increasing, we will contact the provider to make a plan of care and decide when to intervene. There have been days when the rapid response team had to round every two hours to visit patients who were tested and awaiting results and to ensure breath sounds were not becoming worse, assess the appearance of the patient(s), and assessment of whether the patient is feeling more short of breath, etc.
“It’s a frightening time,” said Jami. “Rapid response nurses in this facility do not only attend codes, we are to be a second set of eyes and mind of the nurses throughout. We often get a call asking to see a patient who is short of breath and having trouble breathing. Several months ago, there was no second thought or anxiety going to assess the patient. Now, one of the first things I check is if the patient has been tested for COVID-19.”
Not only has Jami witnessed the impact of the pandemic on the healthcare industry, she has also experienced the personal toll caused by these uncertain times.
“This virus has taken a toll on me mentally as a nurse. My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a month ago. Due to this virus and working in healthcare, I am unable to spend time with her in person in fear of giving her a virus with the potentially limited time she could have left. I find myself caring for strangers, and in return I am no longer able to care for my own mother. In reality, while there are many tears late at night, I cling to the memory of praying to God from the time I was in middle school, ‘I want to be your hands. I want to be your feet. I’ll go where you send me.’ God has sent me here. He has trusted me to be a vessel and blessed me to be a servant to His people. I have been chosen. Nurses fighting this faceless killer have been chosen. It is a gift, not a curse, to be on the front lines, rolling up our sleeves and walking into the fire.”
Another Snead State nursing alumna is LeShea Perry, formerly of Horton, who graduated from the Snead State Nursing program in 2018. Since graduating from Snead, she moved across the country to Albuquerque, New Mexico. She passed the NCLEX licensure exam four months after graduating and two months later started a residency program at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, a major hospital in Albuquerque.
“I have been working on the cardiac/neuro PCU team and have learned so much. I have also utilized all the skills and techniques I learned while attending Snead State Community College. Recently my team has been designated as the COVID-19 response unit for the entire hospital. I have had several positive patients and have had to adapt to the circumstances. This includes doing my own lab work to reduce excess staff exposure. I have also had to become proficient in donning and doffing PPE correctly throughout shift.”
Snead State Nursing Instructor Dr. Amy Langley said she’s been receiving reports and updates from nursing students who are experiencing first-hand the aftermath from COVID-19.
“One of our current LPN to RN Mobility students shared with me her feelings about entering the workforce as an RN. She currently works as an LPN at Martin Army Hospital in Fort Benning,” said Dr. Langley.
The student shared her story while asking to remain anonymous. “Becoming a Registered Nurse during this time in our culture is honestly a scary moment. I know what needs to be done, and I know that as an RN, my services are very much needed. Regardless of my fears, I am more than willing to be of service to others. It’s what I signed up for. I am fully aware of the risks involved.
“As I care for my patients, I see them as human beings in need. Without nurses, the health care system would falter greatly. No one wants to deal with a pandemic of any magnitude. Just as a person signs up to become a soldier in the United States Army, they are fully aware of the threat of war at any time, yet they make the commitment knowing it could cost them their life.
“I feel the same way. I, too. am a soldier, a soldier in scrubs ready to deal with what lies ahead. I don’t know what my future holds. I only know about what’s happening now, and I am healthy and able to serve others as a nurse.”
The student described the precautions she, her supervisors and her co-workers are taking when caring for patients during the pandemic. “I am currently learning all I can about COVID-19. I share updated information from the CDC with my supervisors and co-workers at our morning huddles. I practice hand hygiene more than ever and then some. I wear protective equipment provided by my institution. I try to lookout for my fellow employees by reminding them to put on protective gear. My senses are constantly on high alert. I am very careful about every move I make, and when caring for my patients, I find myself providing patient teaching specific to COVID-19 and how they should stay protected. I answer their questions to the best of my ability, and what I don’t know, I find the answer through my supervisor or the CDC.
“As an RN, caring for a person infected with COVID-19 paints an uncertain future in my mind. If I got infected, would I survive? It’s a big ‘unknown’ for me. Upon recognition of this, the answer is an astounding yes! Yes, I still want to be in this fight as an RN caring for those in need. You may ask why. The answer is because I have faith. I was raised to have faith in something bigger and larger than life itself. I am a born again Christian who believes in the power of Almighty God. If he can’t protect me, then nothing or no one can. So, with that being said, if I got infected and died, then I will pass away knowing I did my best in caring for those who needed me. I would be at peace.”