Marquette nursing students inspire, share gratitude for health care workers

While+working+through+a+global+pandemic%2C+Yvonne+Danko+%28right%29+and+a+friend+pose+in+their+PPE+gear.+Photo+courtesy+of+Yvonne+Danko

While working through a global pandemic, Yvonne Danko (right) and a friend pose in their PPE gear. Photo courtesy of Yvonne Danko

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, many nursing students are placed in difficult positions where they are choosing between work experience and their own health and safety. Many Marquette nursing students are choosing to put themselves at risk in order to apply their education from Marquette into the real world, which undoubtedly comes with many hardships.

Even medical students who are not working during this time and trying to support health care workers in other ways.

Gina Vicini and Grace Frost, both sophomores in the College of Health Sciences, started a Facebook group called “Students Thanking Healthcare Workers.” In the group, members comment the names of health care workers that they know and others comment if they want to thank them in some way, whether through mail or email.

“I was talking to my cousin who is an ER nurse in Chicago and I was amazed at what the health care workers were going through,” Frost said in an email.

She said she reached out to Gina after finding out what they were going through.

“We decided to start the page as a way to connect students to (health care workers) to remind them we are thinking of them and grateful for their dedication. Social distancing gets lonely for everyone, and I can only imagine what the front-liners are feeling,” Frost said in an email. 

She said she hopes every letter helps to brighten someone’s day.

“Grace and I decided to start this group simply to bring people together during this time of uncertainty and show our appreciation for those who are working the frontlines, especially health care which hits close for us as nursing students,” Vicini said in an email. 

She said she feels it is important to acknowledge the work that health care workers are doing because it so often goes unnoticed.

“They are the ones paving the road as role models for all future health care workers and are great examples of what all students should hope to be,” Vicini said in an email.

The Facebook group has only continued to grow.

“I have heard from multiple people (saying) that (the person) they sent a message to said it made their day and even made them cry,” Vicini said in an email. “It is amazing to see how this group continues to grow and extends to Marquette alums as well as current student’s family members or strangers.”

She said she also noticed that people not only want to join the group and write, but then they go on and continue to invite more people who they want to get involved, which she thinks is really moving.

“It was so cool to watch how fast the page grew and how excited people got about it,” Frost said. “It made me really proud to be a Marquette student and see how excited people were to try and bring some happiness to these people’s lives. It was also awesome to see all the Marquette alums working the front-lines of the pandemic.”

Many Marquette alums have been working hard throughout this pandemic, and current seniors have went straight into work, with no official graduation yet.

Yvonne Danko, a senior in the College of Health Sciences, has been working as a nurse intern at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Milwaukee on a medical and surgical floor. She said her suit is specialized in orthopedics and neurology.

Orthopedics and neurology means she usually works with patients who experience strokes and seizures.

Danko said she has been working there once a week throughout this past school year, but since the pandemic began, she has been working more shifts.

“About a week ago half of the patients on my unit were COVID-19 patients. Then, the patients were moved to a different floor to confine the illness to one unit,” Danko said. “Now my unit is getting the patients that would be going to that unit if it wasn’t the designated COVID-19 floor.”

She said staff from her unit often help out with the COVID-19 floor too. So far she said she has been floated down to the COVID-19 floor once. 

Working closely with critically ill patients and putting herself at high-risk for infection comes with many challenges and uneasiness.

“The biggest hardships (is seeing) individuals passing away without their loved ones and the absence of adequate PPE. We have to reuse our masks, gowns and face shields,” Danko said. “Sometimes we share these PPE, such as face shields, with other people.”

She said it is scary to go into any  COVID-19 patients room, especially because she has to rewear all her PPE and feels very unprotected from her gear.

“I had a hospice patient pass away on my shift once,” Danko said. “It was unrelated to COVID-19, but the family could not come visit the dying patient. It’s a very hard time to see someone die alone. I tried to visit that patient often, but I had to care for my other patients. It’s a hard dynamic to figure out.”

Not only has it been difficult for Danko to go straight to working in the medical field, but she did not have a chance to end the year with her classmates and friends or have an actual graduation ceremony.

“It feels very weird and sad to have the year end prematurely, especially as a senior,” Danko said. “In nursing, with a class of the same 150 people all four years, we have gotten to know pretty much everyone so it’s sad not getting to say goodbye to our class.”

She added that this situation also causes problems for being able to work with a nursing license after graduation.

“There is also a lot of uncertainty going into the profession of nursing right now with not a lot of experience into a full-blown pandemic,” Danko said. “It is complicated right now because the class of 2020 doesn’t know when we will take our nursing board exam (NLEX) due to the federal and state lockdowns.”

Grace Hegemann, a class of 2019 Marquette University alum, is now a registered nurse at the Children’s Hospital Wisconsin in their surgical and trauma PICU.

“We are currently the only floor at Children’s accepting patients being swabbed for COVID-19,” Hegemann said. “Fortunately, we have not seen any COVID positive pediatric cases in the ICU, as the disease does not seem to affect children the same way it is affecting adults.

However, Hegemann said they are still taking the necessary precaution run protecting themselves and their patients.

“All healthcare workers wear a basic surgical mask to and from the hospital, an N95 mask throughout our entire shift, a CAPR helmet when caring for patients pending swabs for COVID-19, and we are making every effort to share and conserve our PPE, none of which are part of our usual protocols,” Hegemann said.

She said the most rewarding thing about working in a COVID PICU without any COVID-19 patients is that there are still many other patients who they are able to help in different ways.

“While (COVID-19) appears to be everyone’s primary health concern right now, there are still patients dying from strokes, in need of life-saving hemodialysis, and are critically ill from other viruses, which can be equally detrimental to the pediatric population, Hegemann said. “It’s my job to take care of these patients. Hopefully we won’t be needed as the “COVID PICU” soon, but we’ll continue to be busy with surgeries, traumas, transplants, and kids sick with other viruses for a long time after the pandemic is over.”

Hegemann was one of the healthcare workers who received a thank you letter from Frost and Vicini’s Facebook group for her hard work during this pandemic.

“I have truly never felt so valued, respected, or supported as a nurse as I have this past month,” Hegemann said. “Family and friends have been constantly texting me to check in on me and strangers have been reaching out to say thank you for merely for doing my job. I’ve received flowers, cards, scrubs, memes and baked goods from people just thinking of me.”

She said she truly appreciates all the support she and other healthcare workers have received.

“I’ve cried watching videos of people clapping and thanking 1st line workers.  Health care workers are scared, uncomfortable, and practicing out of their element right now. The support of friends, family, and strangers help keep us going,” Hegemann said. “No one becomes a doctor or a nurse for recognition, that’s not why we do what we do, but in times of uncertainty like this, feeling supported and valued is everything.”

This story was written by Skyler Chun. She can be reached at skyler.chun@marquette.edu.