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Pauline Johnson and her husband Todd hadn’t been feeling well. On March 25, 2020, they called their doctor, who sent them to the HealthPartners St. Paul Clinic.

“I was sitting in the parking lot, speaking to a provider,” Pauline remembered, “while Todd was taken inside the clinic. Someone came out and said, ‘There’s an ambulance at the door – it’s for your husband. We need to take him to Regions Hospital.’”

Because a no-visitor policy was in place, Pauline couldn’t go to the hospital with Todd. So she went home, and waited for a call.

Finding a lifeline

“When he came to us, his symptoms were very serious,” remembered Phung Anderson, RN. “We settled him in and I talked to him. I told him my oldest son’s name is Todd. He couldn’t breathe enough to speak, so I told him I’d call Pauline to give her an update.”

The next afternoon, Todd was placed on a ventilator to keep him breathing. Pauline was on the phone daily with his care team. “I spoke with so many people, all of them so kind and sincere,” she said. “They all asked about me – was I doing okay? They made a difficult interaction positive.”

Then, a week later, Pauline was offered what she calls her lifeline. “A sweet nurse called and said to me, ‘What about an iPad chat?’”

Thanks to donations made to the Regions Hospital Foundation COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund, a team at Regions was able to purchase iPads for each of the hospital’s intensive and palliative care units and create a secure video process to connect patients with loved ones. The first connection the team made was Pauline and Todd.

“It was amazing,” Pauline said. “At last, we felt we could have a little bit of presence. Todd’s daughter, sister and I took turns calling. The iPad would come alive and there was Todd.”

Though Todd couldn’t speak with his family, they played music for him, told stories and caught him up on family stuff. “We felt so fortunate to have the opportunity. I’m a visual person, so to be able to see and learn from the staff was comforting.”

On April 8, Todd was taken off the ventilator. “It was incredible just to hear his voice and see the blue of his eyes,” Pauline recalled tearfully. “He needed to know where he was and that he was safe. He felt better being able to see and hear me.”

Full circle

On April 16, after 22 days at Regions, Todd was finally ready to go home. “There had been such a stream of staff and providers that came to say hello and see him doing well,” Pauline said. “It was really incredible. Phung, the nurse who admitted him to the unit, wheeled him out to the curb. She said every day she worked, she’d walked by Todd’s room and said a prayer for him.”

Phung recalled a moment that still gives her goosebumps. “When Todd woke up, I’d asked if he remembered anything from when he first got to the hospital. He said no, his last memory was getting into the ambulance. Every time I came into his room, he thanked me for working with him and taking care of him. The day I took him to the front entrance, he asked about my family. I said I had two boys, one named Todd. And he looked at me and said ‘You told me that – I remember now!’ It was very emotional.”

Pauline and Todd both continue to recover at home. Pauline’s test had also come back positive for COVID-19. She spent one night at Regions as a patient herself, suffering dehydration and low blood sugar. Todd meets with his care teams by video to address some lingering complications. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint – everyone at Regions talked about that,” Pauline said.

The Johnsons credit their ability to pull through “to personal drive, certainly, but really to all the people at Regions. Not just the bedside team, but housekeeping, supply chain – if someone had missed a beat, we may not be here.”

The Johnsons recently made a donation to the COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund in honor of Todd and his care team. “We want everyone to have the same opportunity we had, so more families can connect with their family during this pandemic and beyond.”

“Before Todd got really sick, we had time to bond with him and we were rooting for him. And he got better, against all odds. The day he went home was a very joyful one for us, too.” –Sara Yernberg, nurse manager, S7
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