Catholic healthcare workers continue helping patients even in midst of pandemic

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

March 27, 2020

 

FORT WORTH — Nicole Havrilla knows what it’s like to feel anxious during a pregnancy. Founder and president of WholeLife Authentic Care in Fort Worth, the St. Patrick parishioner can empathize with women who have struggled with infertility for years before a baby is due. For many of these new mothers, fears generated by the coronavirus are exacerbating an already tense time.

“The journey has been long for some of them. They’re already anxious and now we put this [COVID-19] on top of it,” explained Havrilla, who gave birth to three healthy children thanks to NaPro TECHNOLOGY — a natural, procreative approach to women’s health offered at the clinic.

Staff members are taking extra measures during the pandemic to ensure every patient’s worries are addressed. Havrilla emphasized that the clinic follows state guidelines during the pandemic in order to keep staff and patients safe.

“At the heart of it is just stopping for a moment, slowing down, and listening,” Havrilla added. “We really want to hear a patient when she calls. We’re doing our best to accommodate and serve them.”

Deep cleaning examination rooms, staggering appointments, and using telemedicine (remote consultations) provide safety and reassurance.

“The number one thing we keep reiterating to our patients is just remain calm,” said Jessica Rodriguez, a registered nurse at WholeLife Authentic Care. “There’s a lot of information out there and we are working closely with our physicians, the CDC website, and Texas medical boards to give the best, realistic information that’s not sensationalized.”

Social distancing, mandated by the pandemic, is changing the way medicine is practiced. Face-to-face interaction with a physician is being replaced with telecommunication technologies for non-critical health issues.

“It’s a whole new world for us and it’s taking us out of our comfort level,” admitted Rodriguez, a Fort Worth native who now belongs to St. Rita Parish in Dallas. “There’s a lot of faith in God that this is going to turn out okay and a lot of trust in the Holy Spirit that He is guiding us in the right direction.”
 

ALWAYS A PRIEST ON CALL

Family-friendly maternity wards are usually a place of grand celebrations. Grandmothers arrive from out-of-town and proud fathers show off their newborns to visiting friends. But the coronavirus has changed that, according to Linda Sheptock, a labor and delivery nurse at Harris Southwest Hospital.

“Usually we see half the world up here for a birth, but now just the father or some other support person is allowed,” said the St. Bartholomew parishioner. “For the past two weeks, the atmosphere hasn’t been the same. It’s much more subdued.”

To make new mothers feel less isolated, nurses are encouraging patients to reach out to family members via Facetime or other mobile apps. Sometimes bedside comfort means holding their hand while they cry. Sheptock, who is working extra shifts to help coworkers, will suggest calling a priest or chaplain.

“I know we’re going through some very difficult times right now. Would it comfort you to have a priest or chaplain pray with you?” Sheptock will ask an overwhelmed patient. “Not many take me up on that, but we always have a priest on call.”

 

FAITH PLAYS A ROLE

A physician for 34 years, Dr. Justin Bartos, M.D., has treated many illnesses over the years. Influenza, he pointed out, is a serious condition with the number of deaths — 48,000 — particularly high this year.

“But there hasn’t been a pandemic affecting the population in the same manner as this,” added the doctor who has served as medical advisor for diocesan schools since 1996.

Nurses in the COVID-19 unit of MedStar St. Mary's Hospital check the fit of protective equipment before entering a patient's room March 24, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland. Healthcare workers in DFW are taking similar precautions. (Getty Images/Win McNamee)Nurses in the COVID-19 unit of MedStar St. Mary's Hospital check the fit of protective equipment before entering a patient's room March 24, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland. Healthcare workers in DFW are taking similar precautions. (Getty Images/Win McNamee)
Nurses in the COVID-19 unit of MedStar St. Mary's Hospital check the fit of protective equipment before entering a patient's room March 24, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland. Healthcare workers in DFW are taking similar precautions. (Getty Images/Win McNamee)


Symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to the flu.

“But it’s causing a higher percentage of deaths for the number of people affected,” said the family medicine physician. “And we don’t have an antiviral like we do for the flu.”

Working from a medical clinic in North Richland Hills, Bartos is advising sick patients over the phone and visually through telemedicine.

“In most cases, we’re able to assess how ill they are and make recommendations on what to do at home or medications we can prescribe to control their symptoms,” he continued.

A parishioner at St. Michael in Bedford, the doctor said his faith makes him a more compassionate person.

“I don’t think I’d even be in medicine if it wasn’t for my faith and desire to be in this situation with people,” he asserted. “It certainly plays a role in how I approach medical care.”

Catholics grow up hearing about death, dying, and “the life of the world to come,” as the Nicene Creed states. People raised with faith have a sense of hope others may not have, Bartos suggested.

“The virus is here but that doesn’t mean you have to live in fear,” he added. “Practice the safety measures being talked about and make sure you’re doing all the things you would normally do to keep yourself in as good a condition as possible.”

 

PRAYERFUL ADVICE

At the age of 65, Dr. Moneta De Castro, M.D., is in the high-risk category for contracting coronavirus. Except for examining one infant who was born prematurely, the Fort Worth pediatrician stopped seeing patients in person and is answering questions over the phone or electronically.

“I’ve gone into the office to make phone calls. I know parents are worried, so I call them myself,” said the veteran physician who is seeing an uptick in business. “When they hear my voice, they’re relieved.”

The joy of being a pediatrician is caring for the children of people who were once your patients, and the best advice De Castro gives those families is to pray.

“I’ve been a doctor for 40 years and I’ve always depended on my Lord and my faith,” said the member of Holy Family, who volunteers for her parish’s bereavement ministry. “I tell my families nothing is going to end this coronavirus but God. Everything comes from Him. We just have to pray, pray, pray.”

FORT WORTH — Nicole Havrilla knows what it’s like to feel anxious during a pregnancy. Founder and president of WholeLife Authentic Care in Fort Worth, the St. Patrick parishioner can empathize with women who have struggled with infertility for years before a baby is due. 

Published (until 12/5/2041)