A story of survival: Life inside the COVID-19 wing at Research Medical Center

COVID-19 Front Line
Posted at 5:34 AM, Sep 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-14 06:56:25-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The United States leads the world with more than 190,000 deaths due to COVID-19, and the toll is still climbing.

Medical workers across the nation are still logging long hours, including in the ICU at Kansas City's Research Medical Center.

They're working tirelessly to save lives and did just that for Sharon Davies, who at the age of 82, is busy.

"I’m an organist, I’m out and about every day, I go to the church to practice every day, I volunteer at Kauffman Center, I like to play bridge, many things, and of course go shopping and that sort of stuff," Davies said.

But the pandemic put her busy life on hold.

Davies was Cass County’s second positive COVID-19 case. She was transferred to Kansas City’s Research Medical Center, entering the intensive care unit for more than 50 days.

"I became so weak I couldn’t brush my teeth or take care of personal needs whatsoever," she recalled.

Davies’ stay was under the care of a team of nurses and doctors at Research, where 41 Action News was granted an exclusive behind the scenes peek at the front line.

Health care providers work around the clock during this ongoing pandemic, and they're doing that work in personal protective equipment that includes a mask, gown, powered air-purifying respirator and gloves.

It can be unnerving for a patient to see all of the PPE or all of the surrounding equipment.

"For a lot of patients, it’s scary to be in this setting, all the machines, and all this equipment and beeping. It’s a scary time," infectious disease physician, Dr. Joel McKinsey said.

It’s also scary for every member of the COVID-19 team.

"Very difficult, I have a wife and four children at home, one with T1 diabetes, so she has a higher risk category if we bring the virus home. It’s been very difficult in our normal daily flow," Dr. John Paul Armilio, a hospitalist at Research said.

The rooms on the front line are kept at negative pressure to prevent virus particles from spreading. Some patients need a dialysis machine while others need a ventilator, which requires a respiratory therapist.

"You can’t always save every patient. Every patient is different," respiratory therapist Tyler Ramirez said.

Nurses said that’s the hardest part, with family members not allowed in the rooms.

"It's hard to see the family say goodbye from a computer screen. I think that’s the hardest, we hold the computer when someone’s dying," charge nurse Rebecca Ouimet said.

"Every patient that’s ever passed away has never been alone, there has always been a nurse at their bedside, holding their hand, being with them. We don’t take it lightly. We’re the last person to ever speak with them," charge nurse Cassidy Cooper added.

They haven’t lost every patient, though. They’ve saved many lives.

"We can see we made a difference, all the things we did actually gave someone quality of life," Ouimet said.

They saved Sharon Davies’ life. She’s adjusting to a new normal after her discharge from Research in May.

"Well, it’s a new way of life. My husband was on oxygen the last six years of his life and now I understand now what he went through," Davies said.

She went through a lot, too.

"I just never felt like I would not survive," Davies added. "Just very, very grateful that I survived and all the excellent care I had."