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How student-athlete Natalie Stoner made a difference for patients with COVID-19

Chris Gionta

In May of 2019, Natalie Stoner, an outfielder for the Springfield College softball team, took up a job as a per diem intensive care unit (ICU) technician for a requirement for her major. Little did she know, she would be playing a critical role in a global pandemic just 12 months later.

“I was a little bit scared,” said the junior. “But I knew that I was able to help out, so I thought that I should go and play my part in that if I was able to help in some way.”

Stoner plans on working in the healthcare industry beyond her years at Springfield College, which is why she took up the job in the first place.

“I am in the pre-PA (Physician’s Assistant) program here, so I had to get a job in some kind of healthcare field,” she said. “So I started that after my freshman year here — before we had any kind of pandemic — I was already in that position to work when I was home on breaks.”

When it came time for her to go back to the job during the pandemic, it was very clear that the environment would be different this time around.

“I started back after finals ended in mid-May, which was when it was getting really bad in ICU” said Stoner. “So I just kind of picked up there. I just picked up some hours, showed up, and it was a really crazy day. They had me working with the COVID patients the first day I got back. There’s kind of two sides of the ICU; there’s like a clean side and a dirty side. So, on the dirty side, you would have to put the full gear on when you went into the rooms. It was like an N-95, another surgical mask, and then a face shield, a little shower cap/hair cap kind of thing, and then a gown and gloves.”

The required equipment was not the only change at the hospital she worked at. As one would imagine, the energy differed greatly from when she was previously there.

“It was a much heavier feeling once the pandemic hit; people were more scared,” said Stoner. “This was before there was any talk of any vaccines, so a lot of these providers just kind of had to go — we didn’t really know a lot about it at the time as a country, so it was a little bit scarier. And a lot of the nurses and other providers who had issues or health issues were scared.”

Stoner has been playing some vital roles in her time working at the hospital. She was very important in supporting patients who were not capable of supporting themselves.

“I was a patient care tech, and so in the ICU, that was where the people were mostly on ventilators, and really just unable to take care of themselves in a lot of ways,” said Stoner. “So a lot of my job was repositioning patients, cleaning them up, changing their sheets, bathing them.”

Natalie Stoner working in the pandemic.

She not only provided physical aid, but served as an emotional backing for those in the ICU.

“During this time, too, there weren’t any visitors allowed,” she said. “So this also played a huge role in just how the hospital worked as a whole. Usually, the family plays a huge support role and is there to keep them motivated. But, without that, sometimes I would spend a little extra time chatting with the patients. Sometimes, they would just need a hand to hold. Even if they seemed like they were out of it, they would just grasp onto your hand, and it really put into perspective how alone these people were at this time.”

The same way it was for most, the pandemic was a learning experience for Stoner. She experienced a change in perspective on her field as well as her approach to her aspiring field.

“I definitely saw that emotional component and emotional connection a lot more,” Stoner said. “It made me kind of think of how spending a little bit of extra time chatting with the patients — just getting a feel for who they are as a person — that really changes their trust in you, and that can really impact how they want to care for themselves, too. They’ll want to motivate themselves to maybe get better or something if they see that this provider has faith in them, and that connection with them as well.”

Stoner is one of many of the people to be celebrated for their work during this tragic time. And when final exams are over in the spring semester of 2021, she will be back at it, being a helping hand for ICU patients once again.  

Photo Courtesy @scpridesoftball

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