Natalie Allison and Uthaya Balakumar, Markham Stouffville Hospital

Too often during this pandemic we have heard stories of how families – unable to be with their loved ones in person due to hospital visitor restrictions – have had to say tearful goodbyes via a screen or window.

While these restrictions are so important to protect everyone in our hospitals, they have also fundamentally altered how we support patients and families.

However, registered practical nurses Natalie Allison and Uthaya Balakumar are two nursing heroes in our Palliative and Complex Continuing Care unit who are demonstrating determination and innovation in order to bridge the gaps COVID-19 has made in end-of-life care.

There is no better example of their commitment than the support they provided to Ann Melis and her son Shaun.

Ann was brought to the Emergency Department at our Markham site by Shaun the evening of Saturday, May 2 suffering from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Ann’s COVID-19 test results were still pending when Uthaya began caring for her on May 3. With her death imminent within the next 24 hours, Shaun desperately wanted to be with his mom, even if it meant he could only see her from the window outside of her hospital room. Although the Palliative and Complex Continuing Care unit is on the ground floor of the hospital, initially Ann’s room was in a courtyard area that is inaccessible at this time.

Uthaya knew she had to do something to help Shaun and worked with Natalie – who assumed Ann’s care during the night shift – to arrange for Ann to be moved

to a room on the unit that Shaun could most easily access from the hospital grounds. Once there, Natalie positioned Ann as close to the window as possible by lengthening the tubes for her medical equipment.

For the rest of the night, as Shaun sat in a chair outside his mom’s room, Natalie regularly called him on his cell phone to explain all the care she was providing to his mom – just like she would do if he was there in the room.

In the early hours of May 4, Natalie learned that Ann’s COVID-19 swab was negative. Although families would normally not receive this information in the middle of the night, knowing that Shaun was right outside, Natalie immediately wanted to share the good news! After not reaching Shaun on his cell phone, Natalie raced out of the hospital to let him know he could join his mom at her bedside.

Shaun – who had fallen asleep in the cold and the rain – could not believe that Natalie came all the way out to get him at 3 o’clock in the morning. He shared that, although being by his mom’s window was good enough, it was even more comforting for him to be there by her side when she passed.

Going above and beyond like this is simply how Natalie and Uthaya feel they should serve the patients and families who entrust our hospital with their care.

Natalie has often told me that she never found her true love for nursing until she began working in palliative care. She was Uthaya’s preceptor when Uthaya started at MSH as a nursing student. Now, as her mentor, Natalie is instilling this same passion for nursing in Uthaya.

Natalie and Uthaya continue to improve the experience for patients and families. For instance, they have added posters on the windows with the room number so family members who cannot come into the hospital can find their loved one more easily from outside.

It’s a privilege to serve alongside them as part of the exceptional palliative care team we have here at Markham Stouffville Hospital. They are true nursing heroes who exemplify our hospital’s ‘honoured to care’ culture.

Nominated by

Wendy Punchard, Patient Care Manager, Palliative and Complex Continuing Care

Markham Stouffville Hospital