UH Parma ICU Nurses Hold Memorial Service For Patients Who Died Of COVID-19
ICU nurses from UH Parma Medical Center led caregivers in Lighting the Darkness, a March 25 memorial service for families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 over the past year. These are the nurses who held the hands of the dying when families were not allowed to visit, due to the highly contagious nature of the virus. Hundreds of family members and nurses, respiratory therapists and physicians from the extended hospital family joined together to remember those who had died. Family members clutched candles and cards, and finally connected with the nurses who were with their loved ones in their final days and moments – and whom they had never met in person. "I want to assure each and every one of you that's here tonight with us that we cared for your loved ones as one of ours, and our hearts broke as well when they were no longer with us," said Lindsey Wells, RN, one of the nurses who planned the moving memorial service. Lindsey and ICU colleagues Kayla Rinaldi and Samantha Rhoades personally called each family of COVID-19 patients who passed away in ICU.
In a 30-minute program before families gathered around luminaries of a giant heart in the hospital’s main parking lot, Tim Boyko, Chairman of UH Parma’s Board of Directors, noted that the community cannot thank these selfless caregivers enough. EMS leaders from the community attended the service, and UH Airmed performed a helicopter flyover. “At our peak, entire floors of our hospital were devoted to providing individualized care to patients with COVID 19,” said UH Parma’s Chief Medical Officer & Chief Operating Officer James Hill, MD, a critical care physician who cared for many COVID-19 patients in the ICU. He noted that patients at this community hospital had access to the same clinical trials as academic medical centers, receiving the very best care. “Some of our patients also had family in the hospital. Some were our family. All felt like our family.”
“At times as an ICU physician, I would look down the hall to see nearly every room filled with a patient affected by COVID 19. I remember holding the hand of the first patient with COVID that I placed on the ventilator, trying to reassure them that they would be okay. As a physician these are some of the times I will remember my whole life.”
Ed Cepsis, 65, a father of seven and the eldest of four, bid farewell to his 91-year-old father over a Zoom call. Nineteen family members were on the call as the doctor reassured him that they had done everything possible to save his father. For Karen Strejnowski of Seven Hills, who was cared for in the ICU within hours after her mother died of COVID-19 and while her father was being admitted to another floor with same virus, the memorial service extinguished some of the darkness of the past year. “I would do anything to have my Mom back," said Karen through tears. "But thanks to the staff at UH Parma, my Dad and I are still here. I know that an unimaginable number of people were lost to this virus, but please do not lose sight of how many of us you have saved. “From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your commitment and dedication to fighting this virus, and for the continued healing we’ve received tonight as well.”
Senior Communications Strategist, University Hospitals Parma Medical Center