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Hospital heroes: Metro Detroit health care workers meet the challenge of coronavirus

Dr. Valerie Vaughn

Wearing scrubs and masks that dig deep ridges on their cheeks, working all day and all night tending to the sick in this global coronavirus pandemic, health care workers have been called to become our heroes.

Putting their own health and safety at risk, they work under unimaginable pressure, saving lives, offering comfort and carrying the grief over those who couldn’t be saved.

And though many are weary, they persevere for the greater good. Here, metro Detroit health care professionals share their stories, their thoughts, and glimpses of their lives as they continue the fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Valerie Vaughn

Hospitalist, leader of a moderate-care unit for coronavirus patients at Michigan Medicine; assistant professor, University of Michigan Medical School

35, engaged, but no wedding date has been set. (“It’s hard to know what the next week is going to bring.”)

In March, as patients with COVID-19 began to fill hospital beds at Michigan Medicine, Dr. Valerie Vaughn was surprised to see the wide range of people who were falling ill very quickly from the virus.

Patients would come to the hospital quite sick, she said, but with conditions that were manageable. And then, suddenly, many of them would rapidly decline, needing more and more oxygen as their immune systems kicked into overdrive and cytokine storms raged inside their bodies.

The puzzling thing is that it wasn't always predictable who would get the sickest.

"One of my first coronavirus patients was a young guy who is younger than me, in his late 20s," she said. "He lifted weights and had no medical history, except once as a kid, he had to take an inhaler for what someone said was asthma. And so he was not someone that you’d think of as being really high-risk for this."

Vaughn didn't expect to see coronavirus ravage the young and seemingly healthy, as well as those at highest risk for severe illness — people who are older than 60 or have health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or suppressed immune systems.

"It seemed that this could happen to anybody," she said.

Now, more than a month into Michigan's COVID-19 outbreak, Vaughn said, "I've seen this happen to all kinds of people from the very young to the very old."

Many of the patients who have needed ventilators to breathe in the intensive-care unit, have died. Among those who survive, Vaughn said they often leave the hospital with problems such as kidney damage that requires dialysis, or lung damage that requires supplemental oxygen. Still others have muscle wasting and other complications that could be short-term or lifelong.

Vaughn urged all Michiganders — even young and healthy people — to make advance directives and think about what choices they would make if they, too, ended up in a hospital bed, struggling to breathe, and a doctor had to have the conversation Vaughn must have with her sickest patients every day.

"Think about what your own goals would be if you were to get to the spot where you need to be on a ventilator," she said. "Most people don't think about that when they're healthy. But I can tell you it's easier to think about it when you're healthy than to think about it when you're sick and having a hard time breathing."

With visitor restrictions at all the hospitals to prevent the spread of the virus, Vaughn said it makes decisions like these especially hard, particularly when it becomes clear that a patient is going to die.

"Often, you know, I'm having these conversations for the first time over the phone with family who can't see their loved one," Vaughn said. "And the loved one is too sick to come to the phone. And, you know, we've tried to do things like FaceTime, but if family members don't have access to FaceTime, that makes it hard for us to communicate.

"It's just been heart-wrenching on our side to know that we can't be there and hold the hand or pass the tissue or even make eye contact with the family, and then the patients are there by themselves in the isolation room without their loved ones nearby. I think that's the most devastating part of this illness."

And though that's a heavy burden for doctors and other medical staff to carry in this pandemic, Vaughn said it's even harder right now for her to be at home.

"When you're at home, you're thinking, 'How can I be sitting here, relaxing, watching Netflix, when I could be at the hospital doing something?' And you know in your head that you need rest and can't work 24 hours a day, but you just want to be back here and helping people and being around your colleagues."

The situation — and the fact that this virus is brand new; no one is an expert — has forged a true camaraderie among the staff, no matter the person's station.

"It has kind of flattened the way our hierarchies work," Vaughn said. "So residents and fellows and attendings and PhDs and nurses and respiratory therapists, we're all kind of working at this together and helping each other out and it has created just this amazing sense of camaraderie."

We're all fighting together for patients and, and that has been the thing that has allowed all of us to survive through this.

"And then, every day, when we leave the hospital, we see signs or notes of gratitude from people," Vaughn said. "That sometimes brings a tear to your eye, but it also just makes you feel like you're not alone in this. ... Even though the streets look empty, you know that people are thinking about you and the hard work that you're doing.

"Knowing we have that support from the community and from each other ... it really does help us get through that."

When asked what she really wanted others to know about her experience working on the front lines of this pandemic, Vaughn said this:

"My biggest fear is just that ... we have so far managed to survive this round." It appears as if Michigan has managed to somewhat flatten the curve, and slow the rate of growth of COVID-19 cases and the number of people who needed hospitalization.

"We were planning for having to take care of 3,000 to 5,000 patients. Luckily, we didn't get there," Vaughn said. "We will be here if that becomes necessary in the future, and we'll figure out how to take care of that many patients if this surge comes back as we loosen social distancing.

"But I just pray every day that we never need to because I've seen what that curve looked like. I've heard stories from my colleagues in other places that have just been overwhelmed. And I pray that I never have to make decisions about who lives, who dies, who gets treatment, and who doesn't. Because up to now ... we haven't had to sacrifice the level of care we've had to give because we've been able to handle the number of patients ...

"So, do whatever you can do to stay healthy. Make sure you follow the directions to prevent the spread of this and prevent a resurgence. Please do that."

Michigan Radio listeners, readers, and reporters are rising to the challenge every day. If you can, please support essential journalism during this crisis.

Martha Ying

Martha Ying
Martha Ying, 54, a registered nurse anesthetist, is laid off from her job at a surgery center. So instead, she volunteers a few days a week collecting COVID-19 samples at the Michigan State Fairgrounds.

Registered nurse anesthetist (laid off from her job at a surgical center). Volunteer at the COVID-19 drive-up test site at the Michigan State Fairgrounds

54, married mother of two high school-age boys

Even though Martha Ying and the other workers at the Michigan State Fairgrounds are taking samples to test 600-700 people for COVID-19 every day, it’s not enough, she said.

“We are not there with testing. We are not there,” she said. “Our results show that greater than 40% of these tests are positive. There's a little bit of variance, and there are false negatives, too, so that makes it higher.

“But they're not testing enough. That’s the problem in the whole scheme of things. … We don't have enough equipment. We don't have the reagents. We don't have the manpower. That was the screw up from the beginning. ...

“Now, I think it's just so important to treat everyone as infected. ... This isolation is so important," Ying said, adding that she's concerned about moving too quickly to reopen business and stop social distancing.

“We have to open things up cautiously, or we'll be right back at it," Ying said. "So we just have to do this in the right order. And this won't be the end. We pray that those really smart people are getting it together with a vaccine because this will not be our last round with this coronavirus."

Ying said all the people who are complaining about being unable to use their boats or play golf or take a trip right now need to hear the stories of what health care workers are enduring and take this threat seriously.

“When I listen to my friends who are taking care of patients in the ICU, and they literally are having panic attacks and not sleeping, and they move their children out of the house, and then people are saying, ‘I can't get a flight to Hawaii.’ You know, really? Please don't get me started.

“We all need to see our nurses. My gosh, they are unsung heroes. And the docs and environmental services workers and everybody who's there in the hospitals. There’s just this whole group of people that have emerged as being so important, and I hope that we can all say our thanks to them from here on out.

“It’s so hard for them without an end in sight. I mean, I can ride my bike as far as you tell me to ride it, but I’ve got to know how far. It can’t become an endless ride. There's got to be an end point and I think that it’s the uncertainty right now that’s really getting to people.

“But you know, I have come to terms with this. It sounds a little strange, but you’re not a nurse for 30-some years and work in this field to sit back right now. You can't sit. You’ve got to make whatever difference you can for the country. I just wouldn't feel comfortable not doing something. And this has filled that for me, to be able to help these patients and do these tests.

“There's work to be done.”

Tom Hall

Tom Hall
Emergency nurse Tom Hall is seen by the camper he is sleeping in across from McLaren Lapeer Region Hospital in Lapeer on Thursday, April 9, 2020. Hall has chosen to live in the camper alongside other hospital workers so that he doesn't have to go home after his shift and potentially contaminating his family with Covid19.

Emergency room nurse, McLaren Lapeer Region Hospital

40, married father of three

Tom Hall wants you to know that on-the-job sacrifices are only part of the story. He has moved out of the home he shares with his family into the Water Tower Travel Trailer Park in Lapeer. His home for the next month or more is a 33-foot camper directly across the street from the hospital. His only contact with his family will be over video chats on his phone, and the occasional visit to the park. The kids can come ride their bikes and talk to him from a distance.

“They just can’t come close to me,” he said. “That’s the hardest part.”

The park is beginning to fill up with health care workers who have chosen to camp out rather than risk getting their loved ones sick. With N95 masks in such short supply that he and his colleagues are now expected to wear the same mask for a week straight, he knows there’s a good chance he could get sick. Each time health care workers don a used mask, they risk transferring virus from the mask onto their body.

Although McLaren Lapeer hasn’t seen the heavy influx of COVID-19 patients that has overwhelmed metro Detroit hospitals, Hall believes it’s coming.

Many hospital workers feel it’s only a matter of time before they get sick. Hall said some have resigned, rather than face the risk.

“We nurses went to school to take care of patients, but we did not sign up to take care of them unsafely,” Hall said. “If I get sick, I’ll stay in the camper. I’ll self-isolate here and hopefully it doesn’t get bad enough that I have to go to the hospital.”

His only contact with his family will be over video chats on his phone, and the occasional visit to the park. The kids can come ride their bikes and talk to him from a distance.

“They just can’t come close to me,” he said. “That’s the hardest part.”

Kathy Roeder

Kathy Roeder
Kathy Roeder, System Director Speech and Language Pathology, Beaumont Health.

System director speech and language pathology, Beaumont Health, Royal Oak, Troy, Grosse Pointe

Married with adult children

“Speech and language pathologists evaluate and treat patients with swallowing, communicative and cognitive disorders. Our hospitalized COVID-19 patients are challenged by shortness of breath and weakness which then impacts their ability to manage swallowing while insuring that food does not inadvertently enter the airway.

"We are working collaboratively with our dedicated and tireless nursing and physician teams to ensure that patients have the breath support, strength and endurance to manage the exquisite timing and efficiency needed for safe swallowing.

"Our patients also struggle with strength of voice, which is another aspect of communication we address. We are ensuring that our families are kept in the loop with daily communication. We provide our direct phone contact information so that despite the hold on visitation during this pandemic, families feel that they are part of the plan of care for their loved ones.”

Beth Mavin

Beth Mavin.
Beth Mavin.

Operating room nurse at Michigan Medicine

59, married with adult children

"If you only carry one thing throughout your entire life, let it be hope. Let it be hope that better things are always ahead. Let it be hope that you can get through even the toughest of times. Let it be hope that you are stronger than any challenge that comes your way. Let it be hope that you are exactly where you are meant to be right now, and that you are on the path to where you are meant to be. ... Because during these tough times, Hope will be the very thing that carries you through."

Dr. Latisha Malcom

Western Wayne Family Health Centers, primary care clinic, Inkster

For all that has been written about ventilators and promising drugs in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Latisha Malcolm also credits her HP laptop and GoToMeeting software.

Like many doctors, the family doctor at Western Wayne Family Health Center in Inkster was slow to accept telehealth.

“I saw telemedicine almost as an adversary rather than something that would adjunct my practice,” she said. “I love being a hands-on physician and being there for my patients. I was afraid (telehealth) would almost phase me out.”

Dr. Latisha Malcolm
For the time being, at least, Dr. Latisha Malcolm is seeing patients — virtually — at her home office.

But then COVID-19 arrived in Michigan.

While a few doctors remain in the Inkster clinic for emergencies and obstetrics and other care that can’t wait, Malcolm now clips on her clinic badge each day and — instead of driving to her Inkster clinic, steps into her home office. There, she fires up her printer, fax machine and opens up GoToMeeting, a video conferencing program.

In early April, Malcolm called to check on a patient she’d known had been turned away from a COVID-19 hospital testing site a few days earlier. Her symptoms had been mild at the time: nausea, a slight fever.

Now from her home office, Malcolm was stunned as she stared at her screen. The Downriver patient lay in bed, struggling to breathe and nearly unable to move or speak to her doctor.

Technology had made possible a sort of virtual house call. But it was Malcolm’s relationship with her that was just as important.

“She's a regular patient, and she has this great, outgoing personality. She moves with her hands and talks with her entire face,” Malcolm said. “But then she was pretty subdued ... It was frightening. I know whatever it was, it wasn’t good.”

On Malcolm’s directions, the woman was rushed to the hospital, where she was immediately admitted to the intensive care unit, testing positive for COVID-19.

She continues to recover, Malcolm said.

The overhaul in medicine has been nearly as steep as the global learning curve about the virus, itself, Malcolm said Thursday.

Doctors are learning more about the multiplicity of symptoms from COVID-19 infections and how quickly someone can go from “being about to talk to you and make full sentences to being unable to take a full breath,” Malcolm said.

The Inkster doctor said she looks forward to her hands-on practice again. Telemedicine will never take her place, she said.

But for now, she believes it may have helped save at least one woman’s life. It all turned on being able to see the Downriver woman in her own home — a sort of virtual house call: “I feel that moment really made a difference.”

Sadia Haq

Sadia Haq
Sadia Haq, Emergency medicine physician assistant at Ascension St. John in Warren and Beaumont Royal Oak.

Emergency medicine physician assistant, Ascension St. John in Warren, Beaumont Royal Oak

28, single

“A lot of people are very upset about this whole stay-at-home thing. I think for everyone else, it’s been fine, staying at home — they aren’t really on the front lines seeing the virus first hand. It is kind of like an invisible enemy. If you could actually see the virus, it is a little bit of a zombie apocalypse, you wouldn’t see people fighting to go to the store or out to eat. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

"We are working really hard on the front lines here. People who are coming in are very, very, very sick. This virus is unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’s very smart. It acts way different than the flu. It is very aggressive, especially if you’re 40 and older. Even some of the patients we have are in their 30s and not doing so well.

"The whole goal of the stay at home order is it will make our jobs a little bit easier. Everyone is eventually going to get this at some point — the whole goal is to control how many people get it at once.

"If we are all practicing the proper protocol by staying at home, not going out unless it’s very, very essential to get your basic needs, it makes our job easier. We are losing a lot of patients. We are practicing medicine in a way that we’ve never practiced before.

"Patients can’t see our face when we go into a room, we can’t hold them when they’re crying. Everyone is trying to keep their distance, not only because we are scared of getting sick, but we are scared of getting patients sick."

Adrienne Turner

Certified nurse aid, Beaumont in Taylor

19, single

“I want people to understand why staying home when you can and social distancing is so important because what I see every day is heartbreaking.

"When I go to work, I see people dying, alone, because their loved ones aren’t able to visit them. As upsetting and stressful as that is, I continue going to work because I believe it’s important for patients to have people like me and my team to care for them and to be with them while their families cannot.

"Being a student, we see how bad it can get and hopefully it’ll be motivation for us to make better plans for the future.”

Dealla Fakhouri

Dealla Fakhouri.
Dealla Fakhouri.

Clinical research coordinator, Henry Ford Health System; redeployed to the intensive-care unit

35, single

"That there's a team of multiple people who are doing everything they can to help (a) hat person's loved one. It's very hard to envision, because you're at home or your mind is just wandering — 'Are they doing this? Are they doing that?' And I can tell you with 100% confidence that we are doing everything we can to try to get the best outcome for your loved one, whether it's proning them — there's evidence that if you flip a patient and you put them on their stomach for 12-16 hours, that helps with the lung capacity, and the settings on their ventilator are reduced eventually, which is great. So we're doing everything we can from the provider on our end, from the provider to the nursing assistant, to really take care of your loved one. That's what I want people to know, if anything. And it doesn't matter your ethnicity or religion, your gender, your race, we're all in this together and we'll do everything we can. That's what I want people to know."

Cyndi Engelhardt

Cyndi Engelhardt
Cyndi Engelhardt poses for a photo with a dog of a dying patient, who's last wish was to see his dog which Engelhardt helped facilitate.

Critical care nurse and assistant clinical manager at Henry Ford Hospital. She got COVID-19, recovered, and is now back at work.

"Oh, goodness. I will say that my job right now is different. It is very unique. It is an honor also to be able to help support the staff through this time, to support the patients through this time. There are so many differences right now. And, you know, visitors can't come see their loved ones. And we are taking tablets and phones in front of them so that they can Facetime their loved ones. You know, things that we're just doing that are very different than we've ever done. And I will say that I see our staff day in and day out, they are tired. That is the one thing that I see on them, is they're really tired and they're exhausted. And I think, you know, most of us went into this — I think some people feel like 'I didn't sign up for this,' but the majority of us working in the ICU, we know that every day we are faced with challenges and we are faced with sick people... And so I don't think there is as much fear in some respect, because we do this every day. It's just on a higher level right now. So I think really the staff, they're exhausted and they're working really hard. But I feel like they're just so proud of what they're doing. And I feel like they appreciate the recognition so much. Because there's so much recognition out there for the staff and so much support.

This is a very difficult time...It's a horrible evil that we're experiencing in our world today. But the amount of good things that I have seen come out of this, are just so overwhelming. You see the support of the staff, the camaraderie, the way that people are pulling together and they're helping each other and they're picking each other up. And people who are home that are making caps for us and masks for us. And, you know, writing on sidewalks and chalk and, you know, whatever they're doing. And it just means so very much to each and every one of us and just keeps us going through this time."

Amber Stephenson-LaForest

Amber Stephenson-LaForest
Amber Stephenson-LaForest

Clinical therapist at CARE of Southeastern Michigan, Macomb County

37, in a long-term relationship

“I think the biggest thing I see right now is grief. People are grieving the loss of the normalcy they had in their life. … The grief is really manifesting through a lot of different ways, through anger ... confusion, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, depression. It can also cause physical problems such as headaches and other physical disorders. I’ve talked to a few people ... they’re getting into fights with their loved ones in their household. …. It’s just the little things that normally wouldn’t bother somebody (that) are really starting to bother people, whether it's keeping dishes in the sink or not putting shoes where you’re supposed to. ... Not being able to get out and do what they want — people like to have control over their lives and that’s completely normal. We can either chose to sit and manifest in our anger about it or we can say, 'I have control over going outside for a walk.'... I definitely recommend that everybody still get up every single day at a certain time. Getting up, having your breakfast … If you’re supposed to be at work at 9, sit down at your computer at 9… Those routines are going to help. ... We're here to help. We are definitely open. We're seeing clients via zoom and we're seeing clients during phone calls."

Melissa Garcia and Adriana Mendoza

Clinic manager, 34; customer service representative, 22 at CHASS Center in Detroit

It is the little things that remind you that the world has gone topsy-turvy.

At the CHASS Center, staff used to arrive in the morning, drifting easily toward their computers or paperwork for their first patients.

Not so anymore at this Detroit health clinic.

Adriana Mendoza
Adriana Mendoza, a customer service representative at CHASS Center Detroit, takes calls from nervous patients as she and other staff try to keep their own stresses in check during the pandemic.

“We’re adapting to a different work life. You don't come in any more with your coffee. You don't go to your workstation leisurely or sit and open email or say ‘Good morning’ like we used to,” said Melissa Garcia, 34, its clinic manager.

Rather, staff now have their temperature taken at the clock-in areas — a routine screening now for health providers and patients.

Then begins the task they’ll repeat countless times a day, wiping down phones, keyboards, walkie-talkies, desks, and counters before grabbing masks and gloves, Garcia said.

Hand sanitizer must be filled, too, even as staff’s hands grow increasingly chapped from the constant washing and sanitizing.

“The level of awareness (to disinfecting) is triple what it was,” Garcia said. “It has taught us to be more safe and aware. It’s about protecting patients and our staff.”

A source of anxiety? Maybe.

But a collective vigilance has built great camaraderie, too, she said. So has what at times seems so unfamiliar.

Doctors will see just a fraction of the patients that they used to. Seating has been spaced in the waiting area. Loved ones are asked to wait in their vehicles.

And tape on the floor marks the spot for checking in — several feet away from customer service representatives like Adriana Mendoza, 22.

Mendoza not only greets patients, she talks to others on the phone. For many, anxiety about their regular health problems is compounded by, say, a worrisome cough. Some patients cry.

Mendoza keeps a list of COVID-19 testing sites nearby.

But it’s not easy. Sometimes, the anxiety at the other end of the line matches her own, said Garcia.

At home each day, Mendoza has carefully set out a change of clothes and a towel in the bathroom. When she returns to the home she shares with her little sister and parents, she leaves her shoes outside, walking straight to the bathroom, where she will bag her work clothes to launder and take a long shower.

Thoughts of COVID-19 aren’t easily left at the workplace. She doesn’t tell this to the patients, of course.

“We’re a health center, and we’re trying to help as much as you can. The patient is worried and scared. ... I try to not let them hear the concern in my voice.

“You have to feel stronger.”

Dr. Joseph Naughton

Dr. Joseph Naughton with medical assitant Kristina Celmer
Dr. Joseph Naughton learned Zoom from medical assistant Kristina Celmer. Telehealth is far from ideal, but Naughton said it also has opened up new opportunities to help stressed patients.

MyCare Health Center, Mt. Clemens

Dr. Joseph Naughton had to smile.

As he finished up another visit in this strange new world of telehealth, the 73-year-old patient smiled from the screen on the wall toward the family doctor MyCare Health Center in Mt. Clemens.

“I’m just glad I learned Zoom today,” he told Naughton happily.

Naughton chuckled. After all, the 58-year-old family doctor was that guy just a few weeks ago.

Zoom? No, thanks.

But COVID-19 has dramatically transformed health care, shoving veteran doctors into tiny cell phone screens on laptop monitors.

“It’s hard for me because I want to see them in the office. I‘d like to be there, and do those physical exams, and put my hand on their shoulder and reassure them,” Naughton said.

There’s no way to feel a lump or hear the thump-thump of a heart this way, and there are few referrals for surgeries or specialists, because most of those procedures have been put on hold.

“I have to tell my patients, ‘I can give you my referrals, but don't expect to even start to get an appointment for this pandemic to be over,” Naughton said.

At the same time, Naughton said he’s found another purpose in his telehealth sessions.

How are you?

Sure, he always asks that question. But now it takes on a different meaning these days. Sometimes more than his medical advice, patients need a listening ear.

“A lot of people won’t bring it up,” Naughton said of lives that have been so sudden ratcheted from routine.

“But if you ask, they will talk about it. They say ‘I’m feeling a little more stressed out. I’ve lost my job. I don’t know how I’m going to get food to my kids in a few weeks, and my kids are driving me crazy because they're not at school,” he said.

“I can’t do anything with their job or their groceries, but humans are social animals and we need this sense of connection.”

Naughton encourages them to take walks, dance in the living room to a favorite song, and to color with their kids.

They are tiny things that he hopes guides patients through a fog of anxiety.

“It’s definitely not business as usual” either in medicine or anywhere else, he said: "A lot of what we’re doing at this time is just doing the best you can.”

Nicole Feldotte

Nicole Feldotte
Nicole Feldotte, an emergency department nurse at Ascension Providence Novi, said she's tried to step up and act as emotional support for patients whose families aren't allowed to be with them.

Emergency department nurse, Ascension Providence, Novi

35, married with two young children

What do you want people to know about you and your job?

“We are working hard. We are working tirelessly. We are here for patients. We are here to fight this battle. We are up for the challenge. We will continue to work as a team.”

Feldotte, who has been a nurse for 13 years, has been working 12 to 13 hour shifts since the pandemic began. She said she and her colleagues prepare themselves every week for the possibility that their hospital could become overwhelmed.

One part of her job that’s taken on new poignancy, Feldotte said, has been watching people drop their loved ones off at the hospital. The speed at which COVID-19 patients can deteriorate means saying goodbye at the door could become the last interaction they ever have, she said, but not enough people seem to realize how significant that waiting room goodbye is.

Patients can feel isolated in hospital rooms even in non-pandemic times, Feldotte said. So even though every day is busier than the one before, she tries to take a couple of minutes with each patient to sit and talk, to help them feel less alone.

Feldotte said she’s found some ways to decompress from the emotional strain, such as quiet meditation during her commute and hot showers. Support from the community also goes a long way, she said, whether it’s from cards, protective equipment donations or the well-wishers that sometimes line the parking lot outside the hospital.

“Work is scary right now,” Feldotte said. “But I went into nursing to help people, and that’s what I love. No nurse is looking to be a hero; we’re just looking to be a helper.”

Sundara Ganti

Sundara Ganti
Sundara Ganti, an associate nurse manager at Beaumont Grosse Pointe, said her support system these past few weeks has been her friends, family and coworkers.

Associate nurse manager, Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe

47, married with two college-age kids

“We are trained for this. … I think I’m fortunate enough to witness this moment, to be a part of this and help out. ... I can do my part, and I can make a difference. My life has a little more value now.”

Ganti loves her job, she said, but the last few weeks have been “an emotional rollercoaster.” Several of her colleagues tested positive for cornavirus and had to leave work, she said, and while they all eventually recovered, those weeks of uncertainty were filled with anxiety for her.

She could tell that her staff was becoming drained, too, so last week Ganti wrote a rousing memo to all her staff to try and lift their spirits, rallying her colleagues to band together and fight the “invisible enemy” of COVID-19.

“This invisible enemy requires a different kind of army, an army equipped with PPE and Ventilators,” Ganti wrote in her memo obtained by Bridge Magazine. “While the whole country retreats into their basements and living rooms, it is up to us to take care of the victims of this Covid-19 virus, to ease their pain and take care of them as best we can.”

Community support has also made a big impact in lifting her team's spirits, she said. On Monday night, about 25 cheese and pepperoni pizzas from Little Caesar’s were delivered to her hospital, paid for by someone who only wanted to be identified as “a patient’s family.”

Everyone got a slice, from nurses and physician’ assistants to the sanitation and housekeeping staff.

“It may not seem like a lot, but it definitely makes a difference,” Ganti said. “It makes us come back to work again, actually.”

Dr. David Strong

Dr. David Strong
Dr. David Strong, the chief medical officer of the TCF Regional Care Center.

Chief medical officer at TCF Regional Care Center, Detroit; emergency medicine doctor, Henry Ford Health System

39, married with two kids, ages 8 and 4

Dr. David Strong is running the 1,000-bed field hospital at the TCF Center, where the former Cobo Convention Center has been transformed into a facility housing coronavirus patients.

"It is not something I planned or wanted to do, but like everyone else down here, there was a need and an ask and I was happy to do it," he said.

"I’ve never experienced a work environment like this before," Strong said. "It's surprising at how well it’s put together, considering the short amount of time it took to build out.

"It's been inspiring to see how collaboratively everyone is working together to overcome the issues we're facing here. We have so many people coming from so many different places to run this place."

Contributing reporters: Kathy Gray, Georgea Kovanis, Miriam Marini, Kristen Jordan Shamus, Meredith Spelbring, Kristi Tanner and Frank Witsil of the Detroit Free Press; Robin Erb, Ashley Wong and Kelly House of Bridge Magazine; and Kate Wells of Michigan Radio.

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