‘Be There Bears’ bring messages from family to coronavirus patients

Bears bring family to COVID-19 patients

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT)- For ICU nurses like Michelle Vaughan, treating COVID-19 patients has become the new normal.

"It's incredibly scary," she said. "We're incredibly emotionally compacted by this."

Michelle is a registered nurse at Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital in Richmond. She sees first hand the battles that coronavirus patients fight, often in isolation, as families are kept away.

"All of us have this craving. It's human nature to want to be connected to your family, to those people who love you the most," Vaughan noted.

"We've always known that family is a crucial part in the care and the progression that the patients experience," added Meagan Wright, a clinical care lead at St. Mary's. "But we didn't really know how much until we lost them."

It's a nurse's natural instinct to help, so Michelle began thinking of how she could get the power of family encouragement to serious coronavirus sufferers. She had been recording messages on her phone for her own children, and that's what sparked the idea.

"I realized, 'how would I get that?' Could I put a recording next to these people's ears where they can hear their family members, that they can feel their presence somehow?"

That’s when Be There Bears were born. Michelle, with the help of Wright, developed stuffed bears that could include a 20-second recording from family members. The nurses could record the message over the phone and onto a device that was then sewn inside the bear. So far, they’ve made 25 of the bears for patients who are either sedated or intubated and have seen what the happiness of just having a loved one’s voice beside them can do.

"We can't give that to them," said Vaughan. "Only their family can give that to them and it's been a real amazing experience to be able to see that that's been as positive as it has been."

Michelle is being honored nationally for her efforts. She'll be one of many frontline workers from all across the country to give the starting command on Sunday when NASCAR returns to the track at Darlington.

"It's blowing my mind," she smiled. "I don't feel like I deserve it. I don't feel like I deserve any of this attention that I've been getting, and that's just blowing my mind."

But Michelle, along with countless others in her profession, do deserve recognition, along with the rewards that come with bringing families to patients, even if it's just a whisper into their ears.

“It’s meant the world to me. I can see that they’re connecting with their families. I can see that they’re getting a chance to feel their presence, and that has made me so happy.”

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