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Thank You to Our Heroes!

Jessica Walls, ICU RN and Zach Matthews, ICU RN
Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem

Today we want to honor Jessica Walls, ICU RN and Zach Matthews, ICU RN, both nurses at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem. Here is their story as reported by Page Leggett and Josh Jarman of Novant Health

While most of America is staying home, intensive care unit (ICU) nurses across the country are busy scrubbing in to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Registered nurses Zach Matthews, 25, and Jessica Walls, 29, serve together on the ICU’s rapid response team at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem. They both work in the COVID-19 unit, and shared what the last month has been like.

‘It’s my purpose’

Matthews says there is a lot more stress and anxiety in the hospital right now.

“I can sense it in our patients,” he said. “But personally I am energized to come to work. And I’ve noticed that everyone on our team has been coming in more determined than ever to help our patients get through this pandemic.” As an ICU nurse, even before the pandemic, Matthews is used to spending his days caring for the critically ill. And he credits his mother, a wound ostomy nurse at the hospital, for inspiring him to go into medicine.

“Taking care of wounds is hard work,” he said, “But getting to watch her over the years and see the fulfillment that she gets out of helping people is what pushed me into the field.”

Matthews went on to earn his nursing degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and joined the ICU team at Forsyth Medical Center in 2017. At work, he can be hard to recognize. Like soldiers going into battle, he and his fellow ICU nurses each don their personal protective equipment (PPE) before entering the COVID-19 unit. This process takes several moments to carefully strap on a head covering, eye shield, two protective masks, a gown and gloves, then they check and recheck themselves before entering a patient room.

“In the past we used to be able to just run in and out of rooms,” he said. “But this pandemic has forced us to be more creative in our approach.”

One of those changes includes relocating each IV pole outside of the patient’s room. If something beeps, and a change needs to be made, nurses can now make those changes safely without having to suit up to enter the room. Another change has come in the form of a switch to cluster care nursing. This approach is more commonly performed on the maternity floor of the hospital to allow new moms to have more time to sleep. The idea is to group daily nursing care tasks together to improve efficiency and better protect team members and patients.

“I feel like God has put me in this place right now for a reason,” he said. “And it’s my purpose in life to help these patients.” 

‘Always do one thing better’

The COVID-19 pandemic has also inspired Walls to stay focused on her goals.

“Every day I always want to do one thing better than the day before,” she said. “And when you are treating patients that have the coronavirus, there is no room for complacency.” Walls’ interest in medicine started in high school after she took a junior explorers class that allowed her to shadow nurses at Forsyth Medical Center. She went on to complete her nursing degree at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and joined the ICU team in 2017.

“I enjoy working in the ICU because we get to see patients at their worst moments in life and try our best to help them recover,” she said. “The only difference today is that we are all more aware of what is going on in the world right now, and I think it is important for us to remember to stop and breathe.” Today she is thankful for her parents, the support of her work family and her fiancé, a fellow ICU nurse. “I’ve learned through this process that we don’t need everything we think we need,” she said. “The things we used to take for granted, I don’t take for granted anymore.”

Thank you to Jessica and Zach for your commitment, dedication, and compassion for your patients and communities. 

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