The coronavirus pandemic has ripped families apart and been particularly unkind to ICU patients who are expected to battle the disease all by themselves, without support from their loved ones.

Dr Leonel Paulo De Caires (affectionately known as Dr Leo), an ER medical practitioner at New Somerset Hospital, wanted to bring a little happiness to patients by reconnecting them with their loved ones.

Currently, it is against hospital policy to allow visitors in the ICU wards. According to Dr Leo, many COVID-19 patients have spent extended periods of time in hospital battling a long, hard fight. Some have even died without their loved ones by their side.

“Being well aware that the no visitor policies in place is a safe policy for everyone and not made out of spite, it still was saddening to watch a patient demise one day without her loved ones around,” he said. “No one deserves to die alone and no one should not be given the opportunity to say their goodbyes if need be. Families should also be able to see the clinicians and nurses providing care to their loved ones.”

Dr Leo read blogs about elderly patients abroad being connected with their family and friends via video call, and wanted to do the same for his patients.

Leonel De Caries and co-workers. Picture: supplied.

The doctor reached out on social media to ask for donations to purchase a tablet that he could use as a dedicated device to connect ICU patients with their families. The response was overwhelming. Within 24 hours, the post was shared over 200 times and many contacted the kind doctor to donate both old and news devices, as well as data donations.

Locals, Brigs Connor Venter donated a tablet and Maurice Levin donated a backup device.

The video calls started last week. Families desperately missing their sick loved ones jumped at the opportunity to see them again, even if it was only virtually.

“Most families scream yes to the offer before I can even finish asking the question. We’ve even had families reach out from overseas as flight restrictions have made it practically impossible to return to SA to see their loved ones. Seeing many happy smiles on the screen makes it worthwhile.”

The healthcare workers are just as excited, says Dr Leo. One male nurse even asked for the exact time the first call would be made, so he could make sure the patient was cleanly shaven and looking his best for his family.

This experience has been an impactful one for the doctor.

“The patient below has been on a ventilator for over 30 days before his family could ‘see’ him again. When I called and saw around ten little heads squeezed into the screen I was truly moved. They all got a chance to send their wishes, say a prayer and smile,” said Dr Leo.

For now, the video calls are for critical patients in ICU only. Other hospitals such as Mitchell’s Plain hospital have also begun offering the service.

“The 8pm clap tonight goes out to you, all the people who texted me repeatedly to donate and to all the families who will be able to catch a glimpse of their loved ones again. YOU are ALL the true heroes.”

Make sure you clap a little louder tonight for the frontline heroes that go beyond the call of duty to keep their patients comforted and loved during the pandemic.



Picture: Supplied

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