Married nursing student/alumna couple Leslie and Elizabeth Stewart help coronavirus patients at hard hit Detroit-area hospital

Two photos of Leslie and Elizabeth Stewart posing in nursing scrubs while working at a hospital.

Health care is a family affair for husband and wife team Leslie and Elizabeth Stewart, one that’s led them across the state to care for patients in one of the hardest hit areas of the country during the worst pandemic in modern U.S. history.

The Stewarts, of Vicksburg, work at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, Leslie as a patient care assistant (PCA) and Elizabeth as a registered nurse. Elizabeth is a 2019 graduate of the Kellogg Community College Nursing Program, which Leslie entered this January with plans to graduate in 2022.

As the coronavirus outbreak began to overwhelm health systems on the east side of the state late last month, Leslie said, Ascension asked for volunteers to travel to the Detroit area to assist in their current roles. The couple stepped up and ended up working on the Warren campus of Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital near Detroit.

Warren’s Macomb County is among the hotbeds of coronavirus activity in the state, with more than 400 coronavirus-related deaths; including nearby Oakland and Wayne counties and the city of Detroit, the region accounts for more than 82% of the nearly 2,500 COVID-19 deaths in Michigan to date.

Leslie said the couple works on a cardiac unit that’s been transitioned to a COVID-19 unit. A normal shift for Leslie involves general patient care, including answering call lights and assisting patients with meals; Elizabeth assists with medication, wound care and IV starts. They’ve also been involved in rapid-response situations, Leslie said.

“We have had the opportunity to hold the hand and keep company many dying patients,” he said. “Some of these patients are unresponsive. They may not even know we are there, but we are.”

In the face of such challenges, he said, teamwork for the good of their patients is everywhere they look, and their unit has an amazing staff that cares deeply for their patients.

The skills the couple has learned at KCC have been vital to their ability to provide such patient care, Leslie said.

“The critical skills and confidence we have obtained, or are obtaining, from our nursing degrees at Kellogg, under the leadership of the amazing nursing professors, has made us the nurses we are today,” he said.

It all adds up to valuable experience for Leslie, who in the short term has his sights on graduating from KCC and in the long term hopes to continue on to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For Elizabeth, a graduate who’s already been working as a nurse in the field, it’s all about continuous improvement to better help her patients.

“Imagine a large Lego model. The more you work on it the more complex and beautiful it becomes,” Elizabeth said. “That is nursing. The more you educate and practice, the more tools you have to handle what is thrown at you. My goals for short and long are the same: I want to continue to build my nursing Lego model to be the most useful nurse I can be for my patients.”

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