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Nursing Heroes: HOAG Community Champions

By JEFF GOLDBERG, 04/22/21, 1:00PM PDT

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Nursing Heroes

Teia Jung is no stranger to breaking down barriers. As a youngster growing up in Brazil, it was expected that women taking an active role in sports would play volleyball. But from the age of four, playing in the streets, Jung excelled at soccer. And her determination to follow that dream led her to the Brazilian National Soccer Team as a teenager.

But Jung’s other passion was for physical therapy, and she ultimately chose a medical career over soccer, and it ultimately led her to Hoag, where she prepared early last year for a career as an ICU physical therapist.

But within a week of her arrival, Covid-19 had other plans. Because of the ease of transmission and unknowns about the disease, only one nurse was allowed to attend a given Covid patient. Physical therapy was put on the bench.

But Jung understood the critical role physical therapy could play for patients bedridden and hooked up on ventilators. Blood clots were a menacing side effect of the disease. Jung was determined to get back into the game and make a difference.

“I started talking to different pulmonologists, different doctors in the community, listened to the guidance from national experts, and I’m like, I will do it,” Jung said. “I believe that physical therapy is important for these people. I want to work with them. I think it’s necessary. When that happened, my role in the ICU changed. I became a Covid therapist. And it worked. With a lot of dedication and putting all our knowledge and applying it to the new unknown. We know what to do now and it works. [Patients] need to be up and moving.”

The Orange County Soccer Club has unveiled its new uniforms for the 2021 season – a return to competition and normalcy that both players and fans have been dreaming of for more than a year. To help introduce the new uniforms, OCSC and Hoag are celebrating their partnership by having them modeled not just by OCSC players, but by the Hoag heroes who helped shepherd the Orange County community through the darkest days of the pandemic back to the light of a bright and healthy future.

In sports such as soccer, it often falls to the assistant coach to be the emotional and tactical support bridge between player and head coach. As the pandemic raged, the nursing staff at Hoag played a similar role. They became the conduit between patient and physician. They were the hand-holders, the explainers, and often the friendliest face in a terrifying world. They were the patients’ advocates like never before in their careers.

“Our patients will tell the physician everything is fine, and as soon as they leave the room, ‘Well, I don’t feel so good,’ said registered nurse Christina Clark. “So, we’re the ones taking care of that and having that deeper connection when they share things about their fears and worries. It’s usually us that are holding their hands when talking to them. We’re the bedside nurse.

“Covid changed everything. Many times we are the advocate for that patient. I am the annoying daughter that is saying, ‘Hey, she hasn’t eaten,’ or ‘I’m concerned about her sleep habits’, or ‘How does her breathing sound?’ But on a professional level, that is one of the biggest things that we do for our patients. The heightened sense of how important nursing advocates are for our patients this past year, when they didn’t have any family members able to be there.

There are no classrooms in medical school that read, “Compassion 101.” But, indeed, the gentler side of patient care is never far from the surface, and it played out in hospital rooms across the country during the pandemic.

“We treated our patients like they were our loved ones in the bed, because we knew how hard it must have been to not have their loved ones there,” Clark said. “We would sit with them, talk with them. 

I can’t tell you how many Covid patients that I have hugged this past year and cried over. It’s an emotional year, but I think the way we came together to create an environment for the patients that they speak so highly of, it’s a huge accolade for what we do.

“I think it’s ingrained in nursing as a profession. Psycho-social is something we talk about. Compassion is something we definitely focus on. We are the profession of people that are with people when they come into this world and when they leave. It’s in the nature of who we are to want to care for other people and be compassionate.”

And educational. For Hoag patient safety officer Elmira Burke, that meant making sure both medical staff and patients were kept up-to-date on the ever-evolving treatments and protocols.

“We’ve talked a lot amongst ourselves over the past year, that it was one thing to manage Covid and another thing to manage the fear of Covid, the fear of the vaccine, the fear of the treatments,” said Burke. “It was significantly challenging because you were trying to stay on top of learning and knowing all the latest and greatest about the virus and the treatments, but you also needed to be really cognizant of peoples’ concerns and fears. It would be unrealistic not to address them head-on, which we did.”

And with those fears allayed, the treatments and vaccines have dramatically changed the calculus of the pandemic. Lives are saved and are being protected like never before.

“I see patients coming back from where they were and it tears me up,” Jung said. “‘I knew it! I knew you would make it!’ It’s very emotional. At the time we just had an idea that it’s going to work if you do what I’m telling you. They are scared, they hear that patients with Covid have died. And we’re like, ‘No. Let’s work together. Each day is one day. I’m here with you.’” And now it’s like, it worked, and they are alive!”