Called to serve: Local nurses volunteering in NYC

Published 8:20 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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A quote by noted humorist  Emma Bombeck has been a guide for Chelsi Ward Kumar’s life.

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would wish that I would not have a single bit of talent left and I could say I used everything you gave me.”

Chelsei and a friend, Skylar Killebrew, both registered nurses, are in New York working in ICU at at Manhattan hospital taking care of coronavirus patients who are on ventilators. They both believe that they are doing what God has called them to do.

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Chelsei is a Troy native. She has a 12-year-old daughter and is a self-proclaimed “country girl who likes to hunt and fish.” I

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Troy was as comfortable as any place could seemingly be.

Skylar is a contract nurse who works around the country. She was scheduled for an Indian reservation in South Dakota. But she was advised that she was needed in New York. Would she be willing to go?  “Of course.”

For Chelsei the call was an inner tugging to use the talent she had been given. Together, the longtime friends would go.

“I had to be isolated from my daughter anyway because she has asthma and also from my mother who has a health issue,” Chelsei said. “I had to be away from them anyway, so maybe I could be there for others.”

After two weeks in a New York hospital, the friends have experienced, first hand, the magnitude and harshness of COVID-19.

“Most of the patients have underlying conditions and many of them will die there, alone, except for the nurses who care for them,” Chelsea said. “That is what is so heartbreaking — people dying alone.”

Chelsei and Skylar said they work knowing that many of their patients will never go home. And, that they could be the ones there when they die.

“At this time, one nurse has from three to four patients that are on ventilators because they cannot get the oxygen they need,’ Chelsei said. “Even on the ventilators, they struggle. And, there are not enough  ventilators for those who need them. Only if someone dies —or goes home —do ventilators become available.”

Chelsei said from her experience most of the coronavirus patients are men, many of them African American and Hispanics.

“Not all of them are older people,” she said. “There are some in the 50s and 60s, even 30s,”  she said.

While caring for their patients, Chelsei and Skylar also have to protect themselves against the deadly virus.

“We take vitamins and drink a lot of fluids and rest as much as we can,” Chelsei said. “At work, we wear shoe coverings and our scrubs are covered. We wear N-95 masks and surgical masks over those masks and also face shields that protect us from any kind of splatter.”

When the nurses get back to their apartment, they shed their clothes and “scrub down.”

“One thing about New Yorkers is that they are taking the coronavirus very seriously,”  Sklyar said. “On the streets, they walk with their arms spread out to the side to keep others from getting too close. And, they wear masks. Every night at 7 o’clock, they gather outside the hospital and cheer for the healthcare workers. They are amazing people.”

When they are not on duty, the nurses take walks in the park and rest and relax. They also spend time “face timing” with family.

Chelsei and Skylar are young nurses but they are witness to something that even the most experienced nurses have never witnessed — COVID-19.

In finding words to explain why they would volunteer for such hazardous duty, they both said, God called them to go.

“We believe this is where we are supposed to be,” Chelsei said. “We believe God called us here and this is where we want to be. What I miss most is my family and especially my daughter. We thank all of those who are praying for us and we ask for their continued prayers.”

Chelsei and Skylar have committed to six weeks in New York. If they are asked to stay? God will lead them, she said.

Chelsei’s pareants are Audie Ward and Kathy Ward Smith of Troy.