Luck of the draw during coronavirus

June 10, 2020
A couple laughs as they look at something off camera
MUSC nurses Chris Hock, left, and Ashley McFadden volunteered to work on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo provided

Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, health care workers and essential personnel have put themselves at the front lines of their communities – risking their own lives to save the lives of others by treating and caring for the pandemic’s most critically ill. With little details known about SARS-CoV-2 at the time it hit the Tri-county area in early March, many could not have anticipated the public health emergency or the economic and personal impact that would be caused by this contagious coronavirus.

But for a pair of MUSC nurses, Ashley McFadden and Chris Hock, the decision to volunteer and work the front lines together was a no-brainer that would keep them doing what they love – providing patient care and being together. The couple’s special brand of compassion and dedication to critically ill patients would later be rewarded in a way that publicly honors and salutes all health care heroes of this pandemic.

McFadden is a critical care nurse who has worked at the medical intensive care unit (MICU) at MUSC Health since 2014. Hock is a charge nurse on 9East and has worked 10 years at MUSC Health. Throughout the pandemic, McFadden worked the day shift on MUSC Health-Charleston’s specially designed COVID-19 intensive care unit. Hock, too, provided highly skilled COVID patient support there.

Caring for a dozen seriously ill patients was intense, painstaking and exhausting, she said. And because these patients required specialized ICU-level care, the unit practiced team nursing – utilizing teams of seven to 10 nurses per shift – dressed out in full personal protective gear – to care for every patient that came to the unit. From March through May, McFadden served as a bedside nurse to these special patients.

While South Carolina has been spared the full brunt of the virus, the impact of the pandemic has still affected almost 14,300 people who tested positive for COVID-19 and claimed a total of 557 lives. Whether in the form of flyovers, parades of applause or signs with thanks, South Carolinians have felt it important to recognize the dozens of dedicated health care workers who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. Many individuals and companies around the country have made donations in honor of these heroes.

On May 6, JetBlue Airways launched the JetBlue Healthcare Heroes Sweepstakes program to honor those on the front lines by giving away pairs of roundtrip flight certificates to 100,000 health care workers and first responders throughout the United States. Ten thousand tickets were distributed in the New York City area alone. The tickets can be used to travel to anywhere JetBlue flies. The program encouraged its customers to recognize a deserving hero who had been actively working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response and submit a brief description of why they were nominating their health care hero.

McFadden was nominated by her older brother and sister-in-law, Brendan McFadden and Mary Wahl-McFadden. In early June, Ashley McFadden discovered she was among JetBlue’s sweepstakes winners during a family video chat. It was later confirmed via email from the New York-based airlines, which congratulated her.

“Chris and I were ecstatic,” she said. The couple hopes to use the tickets for a “vacation of a lifetime.” For McFadden, she’s always wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest or maybe take an international trip. “Chris doesn’t want me to say that he won because technically it was my name on the winning ticket. But I think he deserves the recognition as much as I do. It’s pretty incredible that we, as a couple, made the decision to work with these patients during the pandemic. And honestly, I feel that all the nurses that worked in that unit deserve the recognition too.”

MICU nurse manager Janet Byrne, R.N., who also served as the COVID-19 ICU nurse manager, praised McFadden and Hock and fellow front line nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians and occupational and physical therapists for their commitment and professionalism throughout this period of time.

A woman wearing an N95 mask holds a baby 
Ashley McFadden had to wait almost two months to meet her new nephew, Greyson, because of her work on the COVID-19 unit. Photo provided

“Ashley and Chris were two wonderful nurses that worked long shifts in full PPE to provide care for this patient population,” said Byrne. “Their willingness to go outside their comfort zone and provide exemplary care and support to these patients was greatly appreciated. They used innovative methods of communication to talk to team members in the COVID unit. Additionally, this team took necessary steps to reduce the risk of delirium amongst these patients and dedicated time to involve the patient’s family virtually in the care of their loved one.”

Just as the pandemic changed everyday life and activities for most of the world, it affected McFadden as well. On April 10, she missed the joy of celebrating the birth of her nephew, Greyson Scott McFadden, born to her other brother and sister-in-law, Joshua and Kalyn McFadden, in the middle of the pandemic. Because of her work caring directly for COVID patients, she was delayed in meeting and holding baby Greyson until June 2.

“To me, this was the absolute worst part of the entire experience. I sacrificed seeing my nephew and helping my brother and sister-in-law with their newborn to be able to help to care for these patients. I know other nurses made even bigger sacrifices just to care for patients. Again, it’s still amazing to make a difference and be a part of this,” said McFadden.

But all is not lost for McFadden. She has another chance to experience the joy and excitement of welcoming a little one into the family in late June when older brother and sister-in-law, Brendon and Mary, welcome the birth of their first child.