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YNHH President Keith Churchwell, MD, recently talked with Barbara Stahl, APRN, during leadership rounds. Stahl returned to the Heart and Vascular Center Cardiac Surgery department full time in March, one year after contracting COVID-19.

Knowledge, determination and support help employee beat COVID

Barbara Stahl, APRN, has been caring for patients for over 45 years, so she wasn’t going to let COVID-19 sideline her for long.

In mid-March 2020, Stahl, an advanced practice provider lead in the Heart and Vascular Center Cardiac Surgery department, began experiencing fatigue that became so bad, she nearly drove off the road one day. Not long after testing positive for COVID, Stahl had a telemedicine visit with her doctor. He sent her to the Emergency Department, and she was admitted from there. Stahl became one of Yale New Haven Hospital’s earliest COVID-19 patients, but she didn’t expect to be hospitalized for long. In fact, she told her supervisor, Matthew Gordon, director of HVC Advanced Practice Provider Services, “I’ll be out in a couple days.”

Unfortunately, Stahl’s oxygen levels kept dropping, to the point where she met criteria for admission to the Medical Intensive Care Unit. 

“Coming into the MICU, I remember seeing all these patients intubated, and it was the scariest thing,” she said.

She didn’t require intubation, but was put on high-flow oxygen. At that time, there weren’t many COVID-19 treatment protocols, but Stahl remembered working with SARS patients in the Cardiothoracic ICU. Steroids had helped a number of those patients, so Stahl asked her doctor to keep her on steroids throughout her hospitalization. The steroids helped, along with the anti-viral drug, remdesivir, which she received after joining a COVID clinical trial.    

“These were all treatments physicians were trying at that time, but they weren’t sure they worked,” Stahl said.

During her two weeks in the MICU, Stahl found it “very, very difficult” not to have visitors, and she worried about the toll the pandemic was taking on physicians and staff. Determined to help in some way, she called to check on her HVC coworkers – even joining staff meetings by phone. Finally, Stahl was discharged home with oxygen and an order for physical therapy, including pulmonary rehabilitation. 

“I was a bowl of jelly,” she said.

Working with Occupational Health, she established duties she could perform at home while on oxygen, including writing discharge summaries and calling in consults. In September, Stahl returned to work on the Cardiac Surgery unit with a portable oxygen tank. By March, one year after her hospital admission, she was off oxygen and working full time. She is grateful to her loved ones, HVC colleagues and everyone at the hospital involved in caring for her and so many other COVID patients. 

“I’m doing everything I’ve always done; I just have to pace myself,” she said. “Returning to work was a huge step in the right direction for me.”

“Barb never missed a beat,” Gordon said. “She is one of the most dedicated providers and nurses that I have ever met.”