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'Heartsick' ICU nurse finds innovative way to reconnect COVID-19 patients with families

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Posted at 2:23 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 14:24:39-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- When coronavirus patients end up in intensive care, they’re isolated from their family members. Loved ones can’t hold their hands or be there to say, “I love you.”

Registered Nurse Michelle Vaughan has been working in the ICU for seven years, but she’s never had to face a situation like this before.

“The very first COVID-19 patient that came into our intensive care unit, she was really sick. It was really sad, because her family member wasn’t able to be with her,” Vaughan said. “It was her husband, and that really touched me. I was so heartsick for him.”

 Meagan Wright and Michelle Vaughan
Meagan Wright and Michelle Vaughan

Vaughan had an idea to reconnect the patients with their families, and she enlisted the help of Meagan Wright, a fellow nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital.

Wright contacted the patients’ families to record their voices on little devices that Michelle would then inside teddy bears.

“We encourage them to use nicknames," Wright explained. "We always say to them they can hear that. It’s something they know, and it will help them fight. We’ve seen it."

As soon as they finish, the nurses take them and immediately place them in the arms of the patients.

“Every single time they go into the rooms, they push the button, so that they can feel the presence of their family there somehow,” Vaughan said.

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The patients they are caring for are sedated, intubated and often unresponsive. Both of these nurses say, just hearing the voice of a loved one can make a huge difference for them.

Vaughan gets emotional when she talks about one patient who was already discharged. Her perception was that her loved ones had actually been speaking to her.

“The nurse said to her, “Did you hear your family talking to you in that bear?” And she said, “Oh yeah! They called me every single night!”

The pair say that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

So far, they’ve given about two dozen of these special stuffed animals to patients in the I.C.U. at St. Mary’s, and they plan to continue the program even after the pandemic ends.

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