AdventHealth reflects on 1-year anniversary of treating COVID-19 patients

Posted at 3:30 AM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 08:02:56-04

MERRIAM, Kan. — This week, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission is marking one-year since the hospital started treating COVID-19 patients.

41 Action News met one member of the hospital’s team who stepped up to meet an urgent need, and is still doing essential work.

Ashley Johnston noticed early on in the pandemic that COVID-19 patients were bed-ridden for extended periods of time.

"That causes extreme weakness and confusion, and sometimes when you have an intensive care unit stay like that, it takes you six months to a year to get back to where you were before," Johnston said.

The physical therapist volunteered to work in the unit.

"Help them get stronger and learn how to feed themselves again, sit up, walk again so that they could get out the hospital and go home," Johnston said.

Johnston saw success stories firsthand, including a man in his 40’s, determined to climb the hospital steps.

"This memory will stick with me forever because he got to the point of where the sun was hitting the stairs. And he closed his eyes and he looked up at the sun and he just, his tears are rolling down his face he just, you could just feel the relief of him," Johnston said.

Not everyone made it home.

"One gentleman, reached out to me one day because he couldn't tolerate what we're doing, he grabbed my hand and he said please pray for me," Johnston said.

Even as she continued all of her therapy work, Johnston and her husband both battled symptomatic cases of COVID-19, and are still navigating those symptoms months later.

"My brain fog lasted really bad, probably about month, unfortunately we’re still dealing with long COVID symptoms," she said.

Both Johnston and her husband have been vaccinated, and case numbers are improving where she works.

"Two weeks after Thanksgiving our numbers were in the mid 50's for COVID patients. And now in the past couple of weeks have been in the single digits," she said.

This week, AdventHealth’s message is "Hope Shines On." It's meant to honor healthcare heroes like Johnston, and remember those lost to the virus, in the hospital's healing garden.

"I took some time this week to just stand and look at all those flags out there. That's just, just at this hospital alone, we've lost 250 people in one year to one virus," Johnston said while sitting in the hospital chapel where she says she still prays, like she did a year ago.

"Please help these people get over this. We've lost so many people, and I just don't want to see any more loss of life from this virus," Johnston said.

AdventHealth will hold a memorial service later today, to honor those 250 patients. A COVID-19 survivor will also deliver remarks.