First Louisville COVID-19 patient reflects on the past year, thanks caregivers | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

First Louisville COVID-19 patient reflects on the past year, thanks caregivers

On Saturday, March 7, 2020, Donn Adams arrived at the Norton Brownsboro Hospital emergency department, losing consciousness and unable to walk. A day later, he became the first COVID-19 case diagnosed in Jefferson County.

On Saturday, March 7, 2020, Donn Adams arrived at the Norton Brownsboro Hospital emergency department, losing consciousness and unable to walk. A day later, he became the first COVID-19 case diagnosed in Jefferson County.

“I’d never been that sick in my life, and I was absolutely scared to death,” Donn said.

Donn had the support of his wife by his side in isolation, as she already had been exposed to the virus. Staff treated Donn while equipped with many different combinations of personal protective equipment (PPE), as procedures evolved to reflect an ever-changing understanding of the novel coronavirus.

Morgan Jernigan, R.N., and Tiffany Hardesty, R.N., assistant nurse manager, were part of the care team that supported Donn and other COVID-19 patients through Louisville’s first days of the pandemic.

“In the beginning, we could only really treat the symptoms,” Morgan said. “It was a brand-new virus, so naturally it was a learning process to figure out the best ways to respond.”

In addition to the challenge of processing information changing by the hour, isolation protocols required employees caring for COVID-19 patients to wear many hats.

To limit exposure, one caregiver was designated for each patient.

“That employee would serve as the patient care associate and the nurse; they took food to the patient, they cleaned the room, it was total care,” Tiffany said. “That wouldn’t have been possible without an amazing team rallying behind the designated employee to make sure all needs were met.”

After six days in the hospital, Donn and his wife returned home to quarantine. A long recovery would still lie ahead, but once Donn was home, he was tremendously grateful for the care they had received.

“We have nothing but high praise for Norton Brownsboro Hospital. The staff was incredible. There was never a time where we didn’t have attention,” Donn said.

Motivation to persevere

Victories like sending Donn home were huge, but many concerns still weighed heavily on the hospital staff in the early days of COVID-19. PPE shortages, a problem shared throughout the country, led to much anxiety amid the unknown.

“I also have two children at home and passing it along to them, my husband or my parents was always in the back of my mind as well,” Tiffany said.

Morgan and Tiffany credit an outpouring of community support for helping them, and other health care heroes alike, to handle all the stress and anxiety. This warm backing from the public helped each of these nurses find motivation to persevere.

“Just knowing that I had a job to do for the patients and families that rely on us every day really helped to keep me going,” Morgan said.

“When patients didn’t have their families here to make sure everything was going right, we were the only people they had. We knew we had to step up and take care of them the way we’d want our family members to be taken care of,” Tiffany said.

From mysterious illness to vaccine in a year

Over the course of the last year, medicine has rapidly advanced. Testing can be completed in minutes, where it used to take days or even weeks to get a result. Treating symptoms has evolved from tending to symptoms to fighting off the virus with a range of treatments. PPE supply has greatly improved, and Norton Healthcare maintains at least six months’ supply. Finally, vaccine distribution has provided even more reason for optimism.

Donn and his wife recently had the opportunity to return to the Norton Brownsboro Hospital campus to receive their COVID-19 vaccine doses.

“I feel relieved,” Donn said. “We still need to be vigilant, but we can start to see where perhaps a type of normal is coming.”

Morgan and Tiffany share Donn’s sense of optimism, but also encourage fellow health care workers to stay strong as the fight continues.

“We’re in this together, and we’re proud of one another. It’s an honor to serve and to be in the hospital setting,” Tiffany said. “We’re making history and this is something that I’m going to tell my grandchildren about someday.”


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