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What happens when a critical care nurse on the front lines of COVID-19 is also a mother to a son with special needs

Latazia Harris is a critical care assistant nurse manager at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. Her unit was recently converted into one specializing in the testing and treatment of COVID-19, and that change put Harris on the front lines of a global pandemic.

The part of her that loves what she does remains fiercely committed to the oath she took when she graduated from nursing school. As videos proliferate online of overwhelmed, exhausted and terrified nurses elsewhere in the nation walking away from their posts, Harris is level-headed, focused and digging in.

“It’s a mental, emotional and physical response that comes from having to be on the front line of a pandemic,” Harris said. “It’s high anxiety. It can be chaotic. And we have to be mentally OK to be physically OK to be able to deal with everything that we’re facing.”  

That’s hard when you’re also a mother, as Harris is, to a son with special needs. His name is Josiah. He has a tracheostomy and is prone to respiratory issues. And as the COVID-19 crisis began to take shape within the walls of her hospital, Harris had to carve out a plan — one that would allow her to do her job to the best of her abilities while keeping her son safe.

Harris is resourceful by nature. In high school, she dreamed of being a trauma surgeon. But, as she puts it, “that wasn’t part of God’s plans for me.” She gave birth to Josiah when she was just shy of her 19th birthday.

Harris knew she still wanted to be in medicine, so she got her nursing degree from Winston-Salem State University and embarked on an impressive career, as a traveling nurse and then as a critical care assistant nurse manager at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

“I love people, and I love helping people. That’s the main thing that drives what I do and why I’m still here,” Harris said. “When you get news of a diagnosis — it could be good or bad — that puts the patient at a very vulnerable place. You need to be strong for that patient and help them understand the news or just to be there to listen to them as they talk or cry. That’s a very rewarding experience. It’s not something that I take lightly in that moment. They are trusting me, and I’m essentially a complete stranger.”

At every stage of the career she loves, Josiah, now almost 16, has been by her side.

“He is all that I’ve known my whole adult life. Outside of going on a vacation here or there, we’re not apart from each other. He’s my best friend,” she said.

So as the pandemic took hold in her community, she found herself in a difficult position: She knew she had an important role to play within the walls of the hospital. She also knew she couldn’t expose her son to the risks of COVID-19. So she reached out to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation to ask for help.

“It was a huge burden to think about what I was going to do when I got home. This is my job — to take care of people — and especially during a pandemic, you can’t run from that. You have to face it head-on,” Harris said. “But if I have to be at work and be worried and then go home and be worried, it’s not conducive to anybody involved.”

The foundation heard her concerns and responded, using contributions from its COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund to pay for Harris’s stay in a hotel while she worked in the impacted unit to avoid putting her son at risk.

That first hotel stay lasted for four days and three nights. For now, Harris’s unit has temporarily stepped back from COVID-19 testing, giving her the chance to spend a few nights at home with Josiah. But she knows she’ll soon be back on the front lines — and back in the hotel, away from her son.

It’s hard, but Harris counts herself fortunate. She has an amazing system of support in place for her son, and the help she received from the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund allows her to do her job without worrying about endangering her son and best friend. That’s part of the mission of the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund, which was set up by Novant Health Foundation to provide financial assistance to team members for necessities such as food, transportation, utilities and/or housing due to the COVID-19 crisis and to make sure that help is available for those who need it NOW. The fund has already raised generous support from fellow team members, community leaders and businesses.

“To work for an organization that does make those resources available, it’s definitely something that is appreciated because it alleviates some of that stress. And it continues to help us stay where we are, in the hospital, doing our jobs,” Harris said. “It also speaks to one of the reasons why I chose to come to Novant Health: They appreciate their team members. And this is just another example of that.”

Want to support our healthcare workers on the front lines?

Consider making a gift to our COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund. We are committed to helping our workers with whatever the need while they do the noble and vital work of battling the coronavirus pandemic.

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