By Nancy Spitler

Alumni work on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic

This spring, people all over the world have been stepping out on their porches every evening at 7 p.m. to applaud health care workers who have been putting themselves at risk caring for those with COVID-19.

In the same spirit, we’d like to recognize those Clemson alumni who are among the heroes of this crisis — those doctors and nurses, physician assistants and administrators — who are doing their jobs at the risk of their own health.

Clay Lowder ’89

Lowder, a primary care physician in Sumter, South Carolina, was skiing in Colorado when he saw the news about a case of COVID-19 in Seattle in February. He called his office manager and ordered a year’s supply of masks and personal protective equipment. When the virus began to hit South Carolina, his practice, Colonial Healthcare, opened one of the first drive-thru clinics in the state, providing almost a hundred tests a day for the rural three-county area. “I’ve watched my staff and doctors put their hands up and go to the frontline,” he said. “I’ve watched young mothers and nurses come out of retirement and swab people all day for a dangerous disease. It’s just a huge team effort.”

Phifer Suber ’95

As the night charge nurse in the emergency room in Newberry, South Carolina, Suber and her team balance the care of normal emergency room patients with those showing COVID-19 symptoms. “Where I am is nothing like the big hot spots, like New York, and I pray it doesn’t get that way,” she said in April. “If it does, I will show up with my team to take on this challenge because that’s what we do.”

Her wife is also a nurse, so as she says, “We’re kind of in the same boat. We both think about the possibility of bringing something home, but just try to be extra careful, and not dwell on it.”

Corey McCubbin ’17

McCubbin works nights in Greenville as an emergency room nurse, where he has to be prepared for anything from a broken leg to COVID-19. He’s extremely careful with the work-to-home transition, but even so, he’s distanced himself from friends and family over the last several months — for their safety.

He encourages people who are feeling sick to try using a virtual health care provider to evaluate symptoms and recommend a course of action, “without having to visit an ER or MD360 where you might be exposed to more sick people.”

His words of wisdom? “Be safe and keep others safe.”

Teamwork and community were recurring themes in conversations with alumni.

Jessica Tolley-McLendon ’08

Tolley-McLendon, an emergency medicine physician in Savannah, Georgia, spoke of her pride in the team of health care workers and first responders with whom she works: “We have seen decreased Emergency Department visits but higher acuity (sicker) patients. This has been a very scary time, but I am very proud of our “front liners” (health care workers and first responders). We have been very brave through this pandemic and have stepped up to the task at hand.”

Like many health care providers, she takes many precautions to protect her family. “I am sure to always wear appropriate PPE at work. When I come home, I have designated a decontamination area in our garage where I strip out of my scrubs and use disinfectant spray on my belongings before I go into the house. I skip embracing my husband and children until I have showered.”

She encourages the general public to continue following guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks in public to flatten the curve and ensure hospitals are able to handle the load: “You may feel great and could be contagious with COVID-19. If you were to cough or sneeze, you could pass the virus on to someone who could become very ill. The newly infected person may pass along the virus to an immune-compromised or elderly family member at home.”

Clean Water
Amid COVID-19

George Greene IV ’01 was recently named CEO of Water Mission, a nonprofit Christian engineering organization committed to providing clean water solutions worldwide. Greene most recently served as president and COO.

During COVID-19, Water Mission’s global response team has developed a “cohesive, internal safety and security campaign” to keep staff, in-country leaders and communities as safe as possible.

To learn more about how Water Mission is working to minimize the risk of COVID-19 while still operating and providing clean water for global communities, visit their blog post “Behind the Scenes: Serving Safe Water Amid COVID-19.”

Ahmed Mohiuddin ’06

Mohiuddin is a primary care physician in New Orleans, which has been hit heavily by COVID-19. “I’m managing a few dozen patients with COVID-19 through FaceTime text messaging, phone calls and the like to try to keep people watched, treated and safe while in the safety of their homes.”

He is married to a physician, and they have a one-year old. “We have our own desensitization protocols coming into the house. Changing clothes, showering, washing our scrubs and wiping our phones/keys have become part of the ritual. We’re trying our hardest not to contract COVID-19, but also have accepted that it may just happen — dozens of our co-workers and friends have been affected already.

Mohiuddin spoke of what he had learned as an undergraduate: “Clemson taught me about community — about being there for our neighbors and for our loved ones and to support each other through good times and bad. We’ve had to find creative ways to be supportive of our community but are there for each other nonetheless. That sense of community and responsibility I’m carrying with me from day to day came straight from the Blue Ridge to the bayou.”

Herbie Cooper ’99

Cooper an emergency medicine physician in Orlando, sees some hope in how the pandemic may change all of us. He described the culture he experienced in Clemson as one where “we realize we are all on the same team. If there are any positives from this pandemic, I think the world is becoming a little more like that. And if the world becomes a little bit more like Clemson, we are going to be all right.”

Spirits to Sanitizer

When the novel coronavirus hit the U.S. in late February, it was clear certain supplies, like hand sanitizer, would soon be hard to come by.

“The South Carolina state government reached out and asked if we can make hand sanitizer,” said Craig ’05 and Meredith Stilwell ’05 Amick, owners of Hollow Creek Distillery in Leesville, S.C., which specializes in bourbon, whiskey and moonshine. “We jumped right in and rolled up our sleeves, glad to be able to help the state in which we have been born, raised and educated.”

The Amicks’ engineering degrees were put to good use during the conversion of liquor to hand sanitizer production, Meredith said. The first step was to create a sanitizer formula that was FDA compliant, which required at least 190-proof ethanol. “For our initial production batches, we redistilled alcohol we were holding in barrels to increase the proof enough for hand sanitizer,” Meredith explained. “This allowed us to produce some product as quickly as possible and make our initial deliveries.”

By mid-April, the Amicks had delivered over 2,000 gallons of hand sanitizer through the South Carolina Department of Transportation. “Once the order for the state is filled, we have a waiting list for health care facilities and essential businesses that have requested product as well.”

Here are some highlights of Clemson World‘s Q&A with the Amicks in April 2020:

Q: Can you give us the origin story of Hollow Creek Distillery?
A: A good family friend was part of a large moonshining family in the Gilbert/Leesville area many years ago. When the opportunity to open micro distilleries in S.C. became available, we asked him to come work for us making moonshine. When he agreed, we began purchasing property, building a facility and completing the required federal, state and county licensing processes. We have now been open just over five years in the community that Craig’s family has been a part of for 10 generations and have expanded our product offering to include High Cotton Bourbon and White Hot Cinnamon Whiskey in addition to Hollow Creek Moonshine.

Q: What was the new process of converting your product to hand sanitizer like?
A: We had to use some Clemson engineering ingenuity to make hand sanitizer production a reality! The first thing we did was research the FDA policy for ethanol-based hand sanitizer and create a formula for an FDA-compliant product. Next, we ordered all the non-ethanol chemicals required by the formula as well as bottles — lots and lots of bottles. The last piece of the puzzle was very high proof (at least 190 proof) ethanol. For our initial production batches, we redistilled alcohol we were holding in barrels to increase the proof enough for hand sanitizer. This allowed us to produce some product as quickly as possible and make our initial deliveries.

Redistilling alcohol we had in storage was certainly the best option for fast delivery, but we couldn’t meet the state’s demand solely with alcohol we distilled, so we sourced more alcohol from all over the nation. This has proven to be the most challenging part since there is such an unprecedented demand for ethanol in the nation right now.

Q: How are you distributing the sanitizer?
A: At this point, we are only working with SCDOT, which is coordinating the state effort to purchase and distribute hand sanitizer to all state agencies and county offices. Unfortunately, demand is so far ahead of supply we are not able to offer hand sanitizer through any other distribution channels.

Q: Is there any way alumni can help aid you with this process?
A: Well, ethanol is really our limiting constraint, so if anyone has contacts in the distilling industry, we’d love to get some grain neutral spirits. Otherwise, stay home as much as possible, wash your hands and stay healthy!

Q: Favorite show to watch to pass the time at home?
A: When we aren’t working crazy hours to produce hand sanitizer, our favorite show to watch after we put our son to bed is NCIS. He’ll be headed your way soon — Clemson class of 2033. 🙂

We talked with alumni around the country on the front lines.
Read more about the experience of Clemson alumni in their own words:

WILLIAM RICHARDSON ’95

’Emergency Medicine Physician  /  Columbia, South Carolina

I am married to another Clemson graduate, and we have two children. I have established my own decontamination routine that I’m comfortable with when I arrive home from work. After that, I go back to being dad and husband. My wife and I have discussed these risks and have found a balance between being careful and intelligent in order to minimize the risks, but we choose not to live in fear. We have fortunately all been healthy so far with our family in isolation, but I only plan on self-isolation (even from my family) if I were to get sick.

Heed the social distancing measures, and you will decrease your chances of getting sick as well as decreasing the chances of illness in others in your community. If you want to understand what it can look like when these measures are implemented too late and/or in areas with high population density, then just look at Italy and New York City. Be glad you live in a less populated area, as it allows social distancing to be easier to accomplish and tolerate.

My words of wisdom? Stop watching the 24/7 news cycle, whether it be Fox News or CNN. Instead, re-watch the 1981, 2016 and 2018 Clemson National Championship games. Don’t live in fear. Be smart, and take scientifically intelligent precautions. Take this unusual time of social isolation and make the most of it with your children or whoever you are confined with. Understand that this pandemic has and will cause a lot of suffering and death, but humans have endured civil wars, world wars, cold wars and other pandemics. We will get past this at some point, especially with the scientific capabilities we have in the 21st century, but it will take some time. Lastly, do it the Dabo Swinney way — support those around you and be a “glass half full” spirit.

ROBERT HUTCHINSON ’16

Completing medical school this spring at USC-Greenville and beginning an OB/BYN residency at UT College of Medicine  /  Chattanooga in July

I and the other medical students at our institution have paused all on-site clinical responsibilities in accordance with AAMC guidance released on March 17. To my knowledge, all US MD/DO institutions have also abided by this recommendation. This was done to protect students and patients by decreasing interpersonal contact and to preserve PPE for essential health care employees.

I hope, more than anything, that the general public trusts the medical community at this moment in time. There is a lot of uncertainty and fear, but clinical and research personnel are working tirelessly to protect people and find solutions as they have always done. That can be hard to see, especially when all of us are distracted by the adjustments we have had to make in recent weeks, but it is no less true.

The adjustments we have all made are enabling health systems to treat patients without being placed in critical situations, and that is the most vital task at hand. In essence, loving your neighbor right now looks a lot like staying away from them.

Practically speaking, I never studied epidemiology or virology at Clemson. But I have always felt that my undergraduate education prepared me well for my graduate studies. More importantly, being a part of the Clemson Family has always helped me feel a connection to thousands of others I have never met. In the midst of this cultural event, that familiarity and connection has provided a buoy, knowing that I am not alone, even in isolation.

JAMES TOLLEY ’77 MD

Assistant professor of Emergency Medicine  /  Medical University of South Carolina  /  Charleston, South Carolina

I retired from emergency medicine, which I did for about 30 years. Presently, I serve on MUSC’s College of Medicine Dean’s Office Diversity and Inclusion and Admissions Committees. I also serve on other committees of the organization. I am presently the president of the Waring Library Society. As a result of the instituted contact and work precautions, I attend all my meetings remotely and have not physically been on campus for several weeks.

​Having been in practice during other pandemic threats (SARS, H1N1) and being in the age of increase risk for poor outcome, I find this one very scary. My wife and I have been practicing social distancing, wearing masks in stores, washing hands frequently and using hand sanitizers. We have only been able to visit our daughter and her children through Facetime. Not good.

​At Clemson, I learned that not everyone had an interest in microbiology, or science for that matter. I learned that you have to develop the ability to talk, work with and appreciate people of different majors, interests, and later, education and social economic levels in order to be successful.

​As a result of this health care crisis, we should all take note of the flaws and disparities in our health care system and work together to help correct them while not becoming victims of them.

Above: From hooding ceremony May, 2013 with his daughter, Jessica Tolley-McClendon. First Clemson and MUSC African American, College of Medicine father-daughter graduates.

JESSICA TOLLEY-MCLENDON ’08 MD

Emergency Medicine Physician  /  Savannah, Georgia

With the Coronavirus, we have seen decreased Emergency Department visits but higher acuity (sicker) patients. This has been a very scary time, but I am very proud of our “front liners” (healthcare workers and first responders). We have been very brave through this pandemic and have stepped up to the task at hand.

Like many health care providers, I take many precautions to protect my family. I am sure to always wear appropriate PPE at work. When I come home, I have designated a decontamination area in our garage where I strip out of my scrubs and use disinfectant spray on my belongings before I go into the house. I skip embracing my husband and children until I have showered. 

I encourage the general public to adhere to their local government mandates. Social distancing is very important for the safety of you, your family and your community. By flattening the curve, we can ensure that your local hospitals will be better able to serve you, your family or friends should they unfortunately develop any life-threatening complications due to COVID-19.

I also encourage the use of masks when going out in public. You may feel great and could be contagious with COVID-19. If you were to cough or sneeze, you could pass the virus on to someone who could become very ill. The newly infected person may pass along the virus to an immune-compromised or elderly family member at home.

At Clemson, there were so many opportunities to grow as an individual outside of the strong academic offerings. I became a well-rounded individual and learned the balance between work and play. During this very stressful time, I continue to ensure that outside of my time in the hospital, I make lasting memories with my family during our social distancing. We are loving all the fun we have playing with our children in the yard and watching a lot of Disney+!  

SAM STONE ’76, MD

Family Physician  /  Chester South Carolina

I have been a family doctor in Chester, S.C., for over 35 years. We take care of a large part of the county through our practice, taking care of newborns to elderly patients. We see diabetes, cardiac disease, hypertension and COPD. I take care of the local high school athletes as their physician. We also cover the free clinic here in Chester. COVID-19 has had an impact on all we do. We have had to see patients and care for them in many different ways, including video and phone visits and even going out to the cars and seeing them. Even though this virus is the main topic, people still must have their diabetes and blood pressure regulated. Children must still keep up with their well visits and immunizations. All this must be done in spite of COVID-19. The main emphasis must be on being careful not to expose folks to it. We must screen carefully before treating patients. This is a great stress to the staff and us all. 

My biggest fear is spreading this to my family. We have not had direct contact with our family for over a month, but the thought of possibly giving it to them scares me. We wear masks at work and do extensive handwashing. When I get home, the clothes go directly onto the washing machine, and I head to the shower. Everything must be wiped down before leaving work, and anything that can be left at work stays at work.

My biggest message to everyone is to take it seriously. Even in less-populated areas, it is still present. Many are not being tested, so the numbers are not truly accurate. If we all do our part and social distance and wear our masks and avoid any gatherings, we can keep it down and as they say, flatten the curve. Until a treatment or vaccine is found, we must not let our guard down. 

I’ve had so many Clemson friends check on me to make sure I’m OK and to wish me to stay safe. The many Clemson physicians I have contacts with stay in touch to help each other stay strong. There is such a bond among Clemson folks like no other, and it really shows in times like these.

KATIE STONE ’09 PA

Physician Assistant, Pediatric Surgery  /  Greenville

Our pediatric surgical team continues to work hard during this time, but the number of surgeries taking place has greatly decreased. All elective and time-sensitive cases have been postponed until further notice from hospital and department leaders, so only emergent and urgent cases are being completed. Children are still getting appendicitis, babies are being born with abnormalities that require urgent surgical intervention and traumas still occur, but a vast majority of patients are on a surgery wait list until further notice. Our office is still open and seeing patients as well, but we have been taking advantage of virtual visits as much as possible.

I have not worked with one single known COVID-19 positive patient. If I were working in the ICU with a high concentration of known COVID positive patients, my life would look different right now. Having said that, in the hospital, I change into hospital-provided scrubs as soon as I arrive. After my day in the hospital is complete, I change back into my street clothes, and the hospital-provided scrubs are sent to hospital laundry (this is the same process I followed previously). I am more aware of washing my hands after touching doorknobs, elevator buttons, or public computers than I was before, and I have also increased my awareness regarding good hand hygiene in public after visiting grocery stores or picking up take out. 

Advice? Our public health officials are doing the best they can to protect as many people as they can with very limited available resources. Heed their advice but understand that no one is perfect; we are experiencing unprecedented times — we don’t have all of the answers. Practice good hygiene, socially distance yourself from others until further notice and limit your trips into public places. Be considerate of our elderly or immunocompromised populations. And if you develop symptoms, stay home to protect others. 

If I learned anything at Clemson, it was how special the Clemson Family is, and how we support each other during difficult times. There are seniors who are missing time with their friends, athletes whose seasons have been cancelled, families who are feeling the great financial impact and many people with angst regarding the unknowns of the future. Every single one of us is being affected by this right now in one way or another, so let’s rally together and do our part to help stop the spread, flatten the curve and return to life as we once knew it!

ELIZABETH BAXLEY ’80 MD

Executive Vice President, American Board of Family Medicine  /  Lexington, Kentucky

Most Americans who receive any health care in a given year do so in a primary care setting, most often by family physicians. In 2016, over 54 percent of all patient care visits were with primary care physicians, despite the fact that we represent only 30 percent of the physician workforce. Family physicians provide the majority of care for people with the same high-risk conditions that put them at risk for COVID-19 infection. We are the predominant providers of health care in small towns and rural areas. In these settings, family physicians often also staff many of the rural and critical access hospitals in those communities. All of that is background to say that, while not currently serving as often in roles in emergency departments and hospitals (those family physicians do that as well in some locations), family physicians have felt a significant impact from COVID-19.

This pandemic has uncovered significant flaws and vulnerabilities in our health care system in the U.S. Nearly 1 in 3 family medicine practices remain independent with very low margins — these practices are already struggling financially to bear that loss of patient care revenue, even this early in the pandemic. I have close colleagues who are bringing home no income at all, in an effort to preserve the jobs of their staff; some are literally going under, including some of the family physicians I had the privilege to train and who went on to become small town, independent family doctors. The third and most recent stimulus package related to the pandemic offers $100 billion for health care providers, most of which is likely to go to hospitals. While $1.3 billion was appropriately allocated for the sustenance of federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs), nothing was specifically directed toward the majority of frontline clinicians.

While independent and small practices may be able to eventually apply for small business funding, they have no special standing and little idle time to take the steps to successfully apply for such funding. As such, those physicians to whom most people traditionally turn for care find themselves in a moment of great risk. For small and independent practices, it means abandoning their primary business. And after the surge of the pandemic is over and as demand for chronic, acute and preventive care returns or even increases, we may find a landscape dotted with failed practices not able to come back. This worries me and other family medicine leaders and organizations greatly. We want our colleagues to continue to be there for their patients and communities, and we are advocating for changes now that will help support them through this.

An enduring lesson I learned at Clemson — shared by my husband and children (who are also all alums!) — is the power and satisfaction of belonging to something bigger than yourself. Clemson represented (and still does) family for us — an extension of our own nuclear families. My specialty of family medicine is grounded in family. My husband, Ed Baxley ’80, is a retired veterinarian, so together, we provided total family care! Accepting others into your family (however that is defined, by birth and by choice) is a value that was honed for us at Clemson. That concern for others and desire to create family is more important than ever in this challenging period of our history.

DOROTHY (DORY) ASKINS ’17

Class of 2021, University of South Carolina School of Medicine  /  Greenville 

Medical students across the country have been removed from their clinical responsibilities. This has been a huge shift for all of us, as we have gone from being a part of the healthcare team to watching this all happen from the outside. Our clinical rotations have transitioned online, which has come with its own set of problems. With that being said, I am thankful that our administrators made the decision that they did and that they have our health foremost in their minds.

This time has been very chaotic but also has brought some blessings in disguise. I have had some time (for the first time in three years and probably one of the only chances looking ahead at residency) for my own mental health, to reflect, to reevaluate what is important to me. I have had more time with my family, more time for my personal fitness goals and more sleep but also more anxiety for the unknown and the impacts that this pandemic will have on our world. It feels trivial even thinking about it but also the impacts that this will have on our medical careers and our rigid academic journey that this virus has interrupted.

The great news is that the social distancing is working. I think it is important to regain perspective during these crazy times — re-examine what truly makes you happy; examine the things that you want to invest your time and love in, even when COVID-19 is conquered. I live with my parents, and this is scary as they are middle-aged and are higher risk than I am. Every time we leave the house for any reason, we are now making sure to wear masks and practice safe hand hygiene. We wipe down everything that comes into the house.

I wouldn’t have had the chance to pursue a medical degree without my Clemson education, and I believe that Clemson taught me resilience and how to go with the flow — both of which have been incredibly important throughout this epidemic. 

HEATHER BROWN ’04

Emergency Medicine Physician  /  Global Healthy and International Emergency Medicine Fellowship Director  /  Columbia

I work clinical shifts in the emergency department, where I see patients and teach both residents and medical students. I coordinate our residents’ global health electives and work with several nongovernmental organizations and African hospitals to strengthen their emergency systems and improve clinical care.  

I am married, and luckily, we are both healthy. Now when I arrive home from work, all of my work clothes go directly in the washing machine, and I go straight to the shower. Some of my colleagues have immunosuppressed or chronically ill family members in their household, and this has been much more challenging for them. Some are sleeping in their garages or have moved into hotel rooms to protect their vulnerable family members. 

I first became interested in global health as a sophomore at Clemson when I went on a medical mission trip to Samoa during summer break. Although the trip wasn’t school sponsored, it changed the trajectory of my life. I am from a small town in South Carolina and had never left the country, let alone imagined that I would become a physician working on multiple continents. Every professor and adviser I encountered at Clemson made me believe it was possible. Working as a physician in resource-limited settings in Africa and Asia over the past decade was the best preparation I could have had for an event like this. 

For the first time in the United States in my lifetime, we are experiencing what many healthcare workers around the world experience on a daily basis. Nurses and physicians in many low-income countries work with limited or no personal protective equipment regularly, while dealing with more deadly diseases than COVID. In those countries, supply chain interruptions, hospital supply and human resource shortages are commonplace. If anything good comes out of this pandemic, I hope it is that people see the importance of building public health infrastructure and strengthening hospital systems in those areas of the world. There is no doubt that a pandemic like this will occur again at some point unless we invest in basic health care and disease surveillance across the globe. 

JESSICA CANTRELL

Intensive Care Nurse  /  Birmingham, Alabama

We are doing the best we can with the PPE we have. My ICU has been COVID-positive since March. We wear one N95 mask for the whole 12-hour shift. We have to re-wear the same N95 mask 10 times, and it is “sanitized” between each shift. We have made a lot of adjustments for our PPE. Our gowns are now made from materials quite similar to trash bags and are a 3-step system that takes a while to put on. 

I wish the public could see how bad it has been. Until you’ve experienced it, you can’t really imagine it. People are dying — relatively healthy people, even young people. The thought of things going “back to normal” and everything reopening is scary to me. I’m still seeing people die of this every day. 

Living alone and away from family has been hard during this time. Being a nurse, I have completely quarantined and only go out to go to work. The only people I see are my patients and coworkers, so that’s been tough. What’s hard is knowing that even if most of the public goes back to their normal lives, I know I won’t be able to for a long time because I’ll still be caring for COVID-19 patients.   

At Clemson, my critical care nursing instructor, Dr. Whitcomb, was in the military and often told us about his experiences while deployed. I’ve been pulling from those lessons and adopting an attitude of “do the best you can with what you have.” Lack of supplies, PPE, medication shortages and increased patient acuity has created a lot of “worst case scenarios” for us. We are all truly just doing the best we can for our patients and each other. Another nursing professor, Janice Lanham, taught me a lot about compassionate care, and that has been really useful for this time especially.

MEGAN BUSSEY ’08

Intensive Care Nurse  /  Lexington, South Carolina

We have PPE (personal protective equipment), but it’s not the PPE we prefer. Our hospital ran out of the duck bill N95s that each staff member has been specifically fit-tested for but was able to provide a universal N95. The difference in the two styles is very noticeable, especially when wearing for entire shifts. The universal mask is much tighter to achieve a seal, almost suctioning to the face. We’ve gotten creative with our engineering skills and use products like foam tape and cushion dressings to attempt to maintain a seal but relieve some pressure. Some Clemson engineering in practice, if you will.

We also ran out of gowns this week that were lighter and more comfortable, and they have been replaced with a thicker, plastic style. It gets really hot in them after just a few minutes, but they’ve installed better AC and fans; we are thankful to have any gowns at this point. Thus far, we have been adequately staffed to be able to come out of our PPE for an extended break every 3 hours, which is extremely helpful. 

In the beginning of the outbreak and closings, I think we all anticipated a surge in South Carolina somewhat greater than what we’ve seen thus far. That being said, we knew we were not as densely populated as New York and other larger cities, so it was hard to predict how that would translate to our smaller and more rural communities. At this point, I think a lot of managing hot spots and outbreaks in our state can be attributed to basic health hygiene principles. Stay home if you’re sick. Wash your hands. In areas identified as hotspots, those who are older and immunosuppressed should remain isolated. Look out for them; offer to get their groceries, call and talk to them. 

My passion for ICU nursing definitely started at Clemson with Janice Lanham and my clinical instructor, Donna McCauley. Both shared personal experiences from their time at the bedside that had me hooked and yearning for more. I learned through other nursing courses at Clemson the importance of evidence-based practice in my nursing care. Knowing so little at its onset, there have since been countless small studies published about the care and treatment of COVID-19 patients. I learned at Clemson how to use reputable sources and discern research applicable to my practice. 

The leadership skills I fostered at Clemson have matured and have definitely been helpful now more than ever. I lead a team of young nurses who have been stressed to the max, unsure of themselves and their ever-changing work environment. Reassuring them, disseminating new information and policies, and remaining positive as an example for them has been paramount in helping them put their best foot forward. I often remind them that we practice Dabo’s philosophy of “best is the standard.” Being in Gamecock country, that goes over very well!

I’ve listened to lots of people argue about the need to open things back up for the economy, while others are still stressed about being in too close contact with each other. Frontline workers are feeling that tension and more. This past week, we lined the halls and cheered for a patient as they left, the first we had discharged home following an extended stay in our unit. A couple hours later, we mourned the loss of one who had been with us for over a month, who had experienced a roller coaster of improvements and backslides. I watched my team of hardworking nurses and physicians cry with those family members and immediately have to move to the next room where another patient’s battle with this virus was just beginning. Every day, we are challenged intellectually, physically and emotionally, and as much as we learn, I feel we are just beginning to brush the surface. 

ASA BRIGGS NP

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner  /  Discipline Director of Psychiatry  /  Greenville

Early cases of COVID-19 in the United States were in large and densely populated urban cities in the Pacific Northwest states, creating a false sense of safety in our smaller and more rural communities. Similarly, there were false assumptions that the most vulnerable were elderly individuals with underlying health conditions; recent CDC data has debunked this myth, with nearly 40 percent of patients sick enough to be hospitalized ranging between the ages of 20 to 54. The topography of COVID-19 is rapidly changing, leaving no city or state unturned — including South Carolina.  

COVID-19 is now spreading across the United States, leaving both small and  large healthcare systems scrambling to find substantive healthcare solutions for patients and healthcare workers. Mental health, often thought to be of least importance for most healthcare systems, has now found its way to the forefront, paving the way for innovative and solution-focused strategies.

We are living in unprecedented times, and for many, the uncertainty and fear can be debilitating. As Governor McMaster mounted the podium, he recognized the importance of galvanizing South Carolinians around the theme of loving our neighbor. In a global outbreak, we need to lean in a little more intently, providing care and compassion for our neighbors — especially those with mental health challenges — and our frontline healthcare providers. Social distancing and self-quarantining may present certain barriers for close contact, but we must ready ourselves to provide support, interdisciplinary treatment and services to our mental health community during this crucial time.

KATYE GILLIAND ’15

Emergency Room Nurse  /  Forensic Nurse Examiner  /  Upstate South Carolina

I have been an ER nurse for five years and still continue to work part time in the ER, but my primary occupation is a forensic nurse examiner. I see domestic violence victims/survivors, sexual assault victims/survivors, child or elderly abuse cases, and other patients of that nature. 

As a forensic nurse examiner, I have not had as much exposure to high-risk patients as my emergency room colleagues, and I have been fortunate to have had the PPE equipment needed to perform my duties. The fact that there has been a lack of PPE for health care workers nationally is a major concern and hopefully will be a lesson for healthcare systems in the future. 

I am engaged to a paramedic, and that comes with its own set of challenges. We have plans to get married/honeymoon in October 2020, and we hope we’ll still be able to! EMS/pre-hospital medicine staff are not always as adequately provided for by their governing entities in comparison to hospital staff. EMS staff doesn’t always have access to readily available PPE equipment necessary for their patient care. My fiancé has been wearing a fabric mask, made by a sorority sister of mine. Although research shows that fabric masks are not the best form of PPE, it does extend the life of his N95 masks, so they can be reused, thus saving PPE for high-risk patients.

We take precautions daily when coming home from work, including undressing just inside the door, putting clothes directly in the wash, putting shoes in a cabinet and off the floor, cleaning our house frequently, disinfecting surfaces regularly, showering immediately after work, etc. We have continued those steps that were in place prior to the pandemic as well as introducing anti-microbial/medical disinfectant washes after work. Both of us working in healthcare has drastically reduced our ability to interact with the general population. We are very aware of keeping our distance from others in essential travel, in the grocery store or at the gas station, for example. Like everyone else, it has also affected our ability to interact with loved ones. While some people can spend time with their loved ones 6 feet apart at home, we don’t really get that courtesy. We risk exposing our near-elderly parents to anything we’ve unknowingly been exposed to, even 6 feet apart. Not enough research is available on the effects of this virus for us to put our family members at risk.

To the general public, thank you to those of you staying home, practicing social distancing and washing your hands! Thank you for doing your part to help flatten the curve. Because of the efforts made by many people in the Upstate, our hospitals have been given a fighting chance and have been able to adequately care for all of the patients presenting to our facilities. Thank you also to those who have family members in the hospital who have trusted us with their care and have not been allowed to visit.

As we slowly reintegrate into society, please remember to support those most impacted by the economic changes as a result of COVID-19. Tip your waiters and servers at least 20 percent and more if you’re able, support local musicians, support local and small businesses, etc.

Clemson provided me with exposure to a diverse range of cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities, providing me with a differing perspective on the world. This allows me to see the “big picture” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clemson also provided me a support system of friends, some of whom are also in the healthcare world. Having friends who are also nurses and understand the impact of this pandemic has been important for my mental health! 

I am not naive to the fact that this virus has negatively affected a lot of people. Many people have lost jobs, lost money, cancelled major life events, not been able to attend funerals, missed out on graduations, proms, ring ceremonies, and other impactful things. The effects of COVID-19 have caused a lot of people emotional and mental distress, placed a lot more strain on already taxed relationships, possible increase in incidents of domestic violence, and child abuse. People are having to get creative with child care and homeschooling, placing further strain on already stressed parents. Teachers didn’t get to say goodbye to their students this year. That’s painful. That is a really unfortunate, raw side effect of the sacrifice people have made for the greater good of the country.

If you want to thank a frontline provider during this time, we appreciate the gesture! The thank-yous, the commercials, the donated meals, the free shoes, the donated masks and all the other ways people have said thank you — we appreciate you, and we are so grateful for those gifts and for the kindness and respect you have showed us during this time. 

That being said, truly the best way to thank us is through lasting change. Thank us by pushing for state laws for safe patient ratios. Thank us by pushing your legislators to make positive changes in the healthcare system. Thank us by voting for leaders who value us and will put improved healthcare policies into effect. Thank us by only using the emergency room and ambulances for emergencies. Thank us by taking care of yourselves. Thank us by taking care of your elderly loved ones. Thank us by doing something altruistic to improve your community. Thank us by volunteering in your communities. Thank us by helping us help you.

SARAH GUSTAFSON ’05 MD

Emergency Medicine Physician  /  Johnson City, Tennessee

As an emergency medicine physician, I’ve been limiting what items I bring to work, and I always leave my shoes outside. I also put my scrubs straight in the washing machine when I get home before I touch anything else.

Being a part of the Clemson Family, both as an alumna and student, has taught me the value of teamwork and supporting others. This is crucial in my role within the Emergency Department, which functions as a team with several working parts.

My message would just be to follow the guidelines of your local health officials, as they have everyone’s best interests in mind. Wash your hands, don’t go out or be around your family when you are feeling ill, and only leave your house for essential trips.

I know it’s hard with businesses being closed and everyone’s way of life completely changing for the time being, but hopefully if we all stick together and do our part, we will be able to be together again soon.

Learn more about the great work Clemson faculty and alumni are doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Nancy Spitler is the managing editor of Clemson World magazine.

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