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As they focused on others with COVID-19 and refused to walk away, Illinois health care workers bore the brunt of pandemic's fury

By Christy Gutowski, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

CHICAGO - This past March, as the nurses in MacNeal Hospital's intensive care unit were overwhelmed treating COVID-19 patients, Neuman Kiamco did not hesitate to join his colleagues.

The nurse left his post in the Berwyn hospital's gastrointestinal lab and confronted an invisible enemy in the ICU that many of his colleagues on the medical front line were calling "the beast" or "the killer."

His family is scattered across the world, including a father in the Philippines, and so Kiamco sent messages and the kind of photos of himself that have become ubiquitous in medicine's global battle against the virus: at work, covered from head to toe in a face shield, mask, gown and gloves.

"We are in emergency mode," he texted his sister, Jeanette Kiamco Perez, on March 19. "The streets are dead. A lot of businesses are closing. The emergency department is getting hammered. It is like a war zone here."

Not far away, at Community First Medical Center in Chicago, Nancy Veto was caring for infected patients in the ICU, where the nurse worked for about 45 years and mentored younger staff members.

Relatives said she worried about depleted personal protective equipment and described her workplace as a scene out of "MASH," the hit television sitcom about an Army hospital during the Korean War.

 

"We have bodies lying everywhere," her brother, Dick Cisner, a retired Chicago police officer, recalled Veto telling him.

Before summer's end, both nurses were dead.

They died of complications related to the coronavirus, likely infected while laboring to save others at a time when most of the world stayed home.

More than 100 lives of professionals working in the health care field have been lost in Illinois this past six months since COVID-19 began its deadly march through the state.

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