A nurse’s courage

Wendy Cort cherishes brave team who saved her from COVID-19

Give in honor of our nurses today

Wendy Cort, a registered nurse, was one of the first volunteers when Novant Health began opening COVID-19 screening centers in March 2020. She loved every minute serving on the front lines – the hustle, the patients, even the long, but rewarding, 16-hour workdays. But most of all, she felt a sense of duty as a nurse to help contain and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Cort is a former critical care nurse with more than 30 years of experience, and, today, she is the manager of education and training at Novant Health Medical Group.

Two weeks into assisting at a screening clinic in Matthews, she discovered she had a fever. She recognized the symptoms as they began and immediately began to quarantine, but her fever steadily increased. She then experienced shortness of breath with plummeting oxygen levels. Shortly after, her husband, Adam, took her to Novant Health Matthews Medical Center.

“In my head, I thought they would treat me, give me antibiotics and recovery would begin,” Cort said. “Little did I know, I was very sick, and it was going to be a long road.”

She was diagnosed with double pneumonia and immediately admitted to the ICU where she was placed on a ventilator. Prepared for the worst and alone due to COVID-19 protocols, Cort contacted her husband and three children.

“I went ahead and dialed my family to say my goodbyes,” Cort said. “I wasn’t sure what the next chapter was. I did not see or speak to family for another 21 days.”

Her daughter Nicole Cort was driving when she found out her mother would be intubated.

“In those moments, I just sent as much energy as I could to the nurses that were by her side, because I knew at that point, those were the only people that could provide her with the physical energy and motivation to continue pushing forward,” Nicole said.

The nurses stepped up in the next several weeks. Cort’s illness persisted, and she was soon admitted to the COVID-19 unit at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. There, Cort was the first COVID-19 patient to receive extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, a method in which a patient’s blood is pumped out, replenished with oxygen and returned to the body.

The ECMO treatment requires specific training, so the hospital called in Leslie Morton, a trained nurse. Morton happened to be on a lawn mower when she got the call. She came right away, and the treatment helped Cort tremendously.

“Without her expertise, we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” said Alyssa Moore, nurse manager.  

Slowly but surely, Cort’s condition improved. By April 10, she was well enough to do a video call with her family and discharged a week later. Well-wishers welcomed her home with cheers and signs.

Cort has traveled a long road to recovery since discharge. She has battled lingering side effects such as brain fog and muscle weakness while working with physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. Today, she has made great strides and she savors every moment.

“I’m a different person now in that I really work hard to take each moment as it is, not waiting until tomorrow to do the things I could do today,” Cort said.

She remembers the courage and compassion of her fellow Novant Health team members. She has heard several stories of how her care team went above and beyond during her stay from nurses staying after-hours to care for her to a nurse team holding a prayer vigil outside her room. These stories bring a smile to her face to this day.

“There was even a nurse who talked to me while I was in the ICU, and I remember it, even being on a ventilator,” Cort said. “She actually came out of retirement to care for ECMO patients because she knew there was a need. Nurses sometimes don’t really realize how much those simple tasks can make a difference and how much patients appreciate it.” “This was such an unknown virus,” Cort said. “Team members put their fears and their families aside to care for me. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for the care they delivered for me.”