When Tonya Waddell, an RN dialysis nurse at Fresenius Kidney Care in Martinsville, first heard about COVID-19, she didn’t shelter in place. She didn’t adhere to the stay-at-home orders. She didn’t keep 6 feet away from those infected with the virus.
Instead, she ran toward the pandemic hot spots in the United States, offering to help whoever needed assistance, wherever they might be.
“I just felt like I had to, you know. Simply, I couldn’t just sit back and watch people struggle with an overwhelming number of treatments,” Waddell said. “They believed that dialysis was going to help the COVID patients recover.”
When her company put out a call for help, Waddell first spoke with her team in Martinsville and then volunteered her services on the front lines.
“Our company asked. They sent an email asking if anybody wanted to go help,” said Ayme Currin, Fresenius’ manager at the office on Blue Ridge Street. “I wanted to give that opportunity to any of my nurses. I gave it to all of them, but Tonya, she just jumped on it. She was like, ‘This is why I became a nurse, and this is why I want to help.’
“She felt like it was a calling. The rest of my staff pulled together, and we made it happen at home so that she was free to go.”
Waddell also consulted her family about the decision, including her three grown children, two younger children, her mother who had cancer and lived with her, her brother and her father. The family vowed to pull together to keep the home running smoothly in Waddell’s absence so that she could help others.
Even though Waddell was willing to go into battle against COVID-19, she didn’t necessarily choose where she would be treating patients from week to week. She eventually worked in three states that were hit hard by the coronavirus: New Jersey, Massachusetts and Illinois, which combined have had approaching a half million infections. Fresenius has some 2,400 facilities nationally.
“Fresenius placed me where they needed me,” Waddell said. “I volunteered myself, and then they just kind of reached out to me after that.”
She said what she saw on her journey was even more amplified than the surge in cases that Henry County and Martinsville has experienced for the past several weeks.
“In our local area, it’s still not that bad,” Waddell said. “It’s here, but it’s more manageable than these hot spots.”
A big change
Compared to what she had witnessed before leaving Martinsville, Waddell said she found going straight into a hot spot to be quite a change.
“The hardest part was the uncertainty of the first, initial day of getting there – not knowing what to expect and just finding my way around and getting acquainted with it,” Waddell said.
It didn’t take long before Waddell was in her element, she said, but not all aspects of the nurse’s job fell into place as they normally would. For example, the safety precautions were certainly different than treating a patient before the pandemic hit.
“That was very different, too,” Waddell said. “We had to wear the N-95 mask, another surgical mask on top of that. We had face shields, hairnets, sometimes disposable scrubs and shoe covers.”
Getting acquainted with the patients who tested positive for COVID-19, Waddell gained firsthand experience on what to look for when dealing with the coronavirus. When most people think about the symptoms associated with COVID-19, they cite the telltale cough, the persistent fever and difficulty breathing.
But Waddell said she treated another symptom that doesn’t usually make the headlines. “It was, like, causing acute kidney injury,” she said.
There for the hard times and the triumphs, Waddell not only served as a talented nurse, but also as a compassionate individual. Similar to precautions taken by hospitals in Martinsville, Danville and the surrounding area, facilities Waddell entered also adopted a no-visitor policy to minimize the virus’s spread.
A family affair
Waddell said she became an instant family member to many patients.
“That was another positive aspect, too, was being able to help the patient because they weren’t able to be with their family,” Waddell said. “We’d hold their hands and talk with them and be, like, their physical friends. They would look forward to seeing you, actually, like, ‘Hey, I’m so happy to get you back.’”
The best part of the experience was when one of her patients would beat the virus and return to their normal lives.
“The rewarding part came when you actually got to see some of the COVID patients recover because it felt like all hope was lost, and then they started turning around and getting better,” Waddell said. “It was just awesome.”’S
you feel better’
Now back in Martinsville, she said her journey to the front lines of COVID-19 isn’t a memory she soon will forget. She even has implemented some of the things she learned while traveling into treating local patients.
“It was a very positive thing. I learned a whole lot,” Waddell said. “It just made me feel like I’m a better nurse now because of it.”
She expressed gratitude to her company for the experience she had at the forefront of treating patients with COVID-19.
“I would just like to say thank you to Fresenius for being able to go to these places and being able to travel and being able to learn and help out,” she said.
And Waddell’s co-workers are happy to have her back in the office, and they’re proud of her accomplishments on the front lines.
“She has just soared and been a phenomenal nurse. I am just so proud of her. I’m like a mom, I’m so proud,” Currin said. “I tell her all the time that she’s a ray of sunshine. She’s always happy. She’s just a happy person that makes you feel good about yourself. She makes you feel better.
“She’s just that type of person that anyone she comes into contact with, she makes you feel good.”
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