Gauchos Take On COVID-19

Javier Moreno

Javier Moreno '05 testing out the PAPR, the mask some staff is required to wear when caring for a COVID patient. The other option is the N-95 mask. Photo: Courtesy Moreno.

Our Health Workers Are On the Front Lines of a Battle for Your Health

Across the United States UC Santa Barbara alumni are being pressed into service to battle the COVID-19 virus. No other group is facing more danger and risking more than our alumni health professionals. There is Meghan Thomas ’88, a family practice doctor who is working long hours in a tent set up outside her office in Scots Valley. She is meeting and treating the sick in their cars.

Jason Prystowsky ‘05 is an emergency room physician who is the medical director of Doctors Without Walls, a Santa Barbara medical emergency agency serving the homeless in their shelters.

There is Dr. Melissa Barger ’05 an infectious disease specialist for the County of Ventura and the pediatric oncology nurse, Melissa Edwards ’05 at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

There are many many more across the U.S.

Javier Moreno ’05, symbolizes this spirit.

A member of the UC Santa Barbara Alumni Association Board of Directors, he left a career in philanthropy to obtain his RN and MSN from the University of San Francisco. He now works with some of the sickest and most vulnerable patients in Los Angeles, in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.

Like so many other health workers in hospitals, when we reach him in mid-March he is awaiting the surge, the overwhelming crush of patients who will need hospitalization because of COVID-19.

He describes going to work at Mattel Hospital as “eerie.” When he sets out for work all seems normal, but when he passes through the front door the change is evident. There is security at the front door marshalling the incoming workers. The number of visitors has been reduced. The halls seem solemn and empty.

The morning “huddles” had since been cancelled to assist with social distancing. Everybody is on edge, waiting for what is totally unknown. Some nurses are worried. They have underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. Will they become victims even as they hurl themselves into saving lives, children's lives?

Of more concern, the supplies are now on lockdown. Face masks that used to be hung outside patients’ doors are now locked away. Too many went missing. On a recent morning Javier had to go searching for a face mask to don and finally found a stash in a patients’ room.

Yet the heroic spirit that emerges in these times is evident on the floors of UCLA Mattel. Food is brought in for the nurses and orderlies. Pizza and baked goods arrive. Javier noted that because he gets off at 7 am it is hard to shop for food when stores are open for limited hours and have limited access. The donated nourishment helps him get through his long shift comforting kids that have had organ transplants or life saving surgeries.

“This is serious, but I think we can handle it,” he says with confidence. Gaucho spirit. Gaucho generosity. Gaucho pride. They are the newest Great Generation.