WWU alums on the front lines, risking their lives in the fight against COVID-19

For William Woods University graduates who went confidently into the “real world” during the past few years, the notion that they would one day be facing a global pandemic like COVID-19 would have seemed unthinkable. But the past two months have fundamentally changed the world for everyone, especially for the dedicated first responders and medical professionals like nurses, paramedics and firefighters in the fight against the insidious new virus. Doggedly trying to find ways to prevent the virus from spreading and putting their own lives at risk to help strangers recover, these dedicated Americans are fast becoming heroes of the global pandemic.

The Woods Today recently interviewed three WWU graduates via telephone about the impact that COVID-19 has had on their work in hospitals and fire stations in the communities they serve.

Kasey Radcliff

Kasey Radcliff ‘13| Registered Staff Nurse| Location: St. Mary’s Hospital St Louis

“Surreal” is the word Radcliff describes about working in the current pandemic environment. When the first news of COVID-19 emerged, Radcliff felt that it was something distant. Now, she deals with it every day.

“It is becoming the new normal,” Radcliff said. “There is always the underlining tension that happens that you know that these patients could crash any moment. People are isolated from their families and alone and you become their lifeline.”

She serves as a registered staff nurse in a hospital where most of the St. Louis-area COVID-19 patients are being treated, which is a ton of responsibility.

“It is real,” Radcliff said. “I know it feels almost like an inconvenience or disruption to our daily lives for many but, we want everyone to know that this is serious, and will continue to kill people. It is hard but we have hope and we are strong, and if everyone can also be strong with us we really appreciate it.”

Radcliff is putting minor of American Sign Language at WWU to use in working with a couple of deaf patients. Her major in Management Information Systems at WWU has also allowed her to perform upgrades on the computer system and helping others learn the changes within the system.

“The core things I learned at William Woods were leadership, integrity, compassion and accountability,” Radcliff said. “Consistently showing up to be the person people expect you to be, which has proven invaluable in these times.”

The advice from Radcliff is to continue to have hope and resiliency, and for people to be patient because returning to normalcy is going to be worth a wait.

“Graduates not going through 2020 graduations and last parties is tough, but it is going to be worth the wait,” Radcliff said. “If we all get through this together, it is because we did our part. When we come together, it is going to be so cool.”

In Radcliff’s eyes, first responders like nurses sometimes went unappreciated for their critical work. She now believes that the support from the community during COVID-19 has been  empowering.

“The community have shown such an outpouring of support and kindness,” Radcliff said. “They have spoken out about protecting us and keeping us close to their heart. As a nurse, that is truly the kindest gesture.”

Ava Demanes

Ava Demanes ’18| Occupation: Register Nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital St. Louis

The floor Demanes works on is typically the surgical floor, but since the onset of COVID-19, all elective surgeries have been cancelled or delayed. So for her, attention has shifted to focus on more patients with severe illness. Demanes helps with screening people coming in and asking patients questions such as having a fever, shortness of breath, and then, taking temperatures.

Even with COVID-19 going on, Demanes is providing more tender loving care to patients by helping them adjust to their situations, especially if their health may put them at greater risk if they contract the virus. The hospital once allowed patients to have a private room and however many visitors at whatever time of day before the pandemic, but is currently not allowing any visitors for any patients.

“Mentally, it has been tough, which only reinforces that I need to go in and be the best nurse I can be every day,” Demanes said. “I am there with a shoulder to lean on when things get tough for patients to accept.”

The community coming together to support each other is important to Demanes. The pandemic affects even the young and healthy like her, who has recovered from a mild case of COVID-19. She encourages people to listen to the rules of the health department and government. And be sure to regularly check on their family members, too.

“It should not take a pandemic for this to happen but you should make it a point to hug your love ones no matter who it is,” Demanes said. “Do not just think for yourself in this moment, but think of what you can do to positively impact those around you, those less fortunate and those not as healthy. Remember that no one is above science. You are not above COVID-19. No one is.”

Support within Demanes hospital include fire fighters providing food and supporting the nurses, even as essential employees themselves. She is realizing the impact and closeness of the community is something that nurses hold on to perform their jobs effectively.

“The health care workers risk their lives for strangers day in and day out, whether it is a pandemic or not,” Demanes said. “Everyone is going through their own struggles, and it is not easy. Having that love and support is what keeps everyone going.”

Timmy Buehne

Timmy Buehne Jr. ‘17| Occupation: Emergency Medical Technician at Abbott Ems & Firefighter for the Fire Protection District of High Ridge, Mo.

Right alongside nurses and other health care workers providing medical assistance have been firefighters like Buehne, who have also been critical in combating COVID-19.

Buehne works at a station that has been taking precautionary measures due to COVID-19, along with their standard procedures. When going on calls, Buehne believes that what is most important is for their dispatch to screen callers for any potential COVID-19-like symptoms, such as difficulty of breathing or fever. If any the symptoms are detected, the firefighters put on personal protective equipment in addition to their normal gear to keep them safe.

“We are making sure that we are helping to make everything safe for ourselves as well as the patient,” Buehne said. “It is tough and can be a grind with every call, having to make sure to take maximum precaution.”

Calls involving the coronavirus have been increasing at Buehne’s station within the typical call volume that come in each day. With the calls and stress level increasing, Buehne highly recommends doing some self-care and paying heed to one’s mental health during days off.

“Everything that is going on is temporary,” Buehne said. “We as a society will push through this, but right now we are in the thick of it and the important thing is to keep everyone safe. There will be an end in sight soon.”

Making sure one is getting the correct, verifiable information from multiple credible sources is advice from Buehne. He believes having the facts and knowing what you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe to help reduce the spread and infection rate of the current virus is important.

“Everyone has a strong opinion on things which is good for everyone to share along with their thoughts and concerns,” Buehne said. “Some people might have heard a whisper of something that could be a symptom of the virus but might not be necessarily true. This can cause fear in a lot of people because a lot of this is unknown and constantly evolving.”

Buehne is putting his William Woods degree in Management of Information Systems to good use during this time. His degree helped him to utilize technology at his station in doing a social media campaign to spread important health care information in the community.

“With everyone on lock down, sometimes you get stuck at home and become tiresome and this can be challenging,” Buehne said. “We have been doing things like going around neighborhoods with lights on for kids. Knowing search engine optimization and getting the information to the end users helps a lot with spreading good news in the time of a lot of bad news.”

His department is doing a promotion called “Friday Night Lights,” on their Facebook page. On Friday nights the department goes by a subdivision with its lights on that has been suggested on their Facebook page – not for an emergency, but to get out to wave to everyone staying home and say hello. The practice provides a boost in morale during trying times.

“It is a big thing for kids because they love to see the fire truck,” Buehne said. “We love bringing it out for them to see it. We are trying to spread good cheer in the crazy times.”

Providing essential help and medical assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic is a source of pride for these WWU graduates, who are just three of the legions of William Woods alums battling the pandemic in various health care and service capacities around the state and nation. Some day when the pandemic is over, they will be recalled as shining lights in a time of darkness and uncertainty.