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Houston Methodist nurses becoming surrogate families for COVID-19 patients

HOUSTON – Health care professionals are finding themselves stepping in as surrogate family members amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Janeisy Romero, a nurse with Houston Methodist, said she doesn’t take the responsibility lightly.

“You have to be not only their nurse but their comfort and the one who they turn to because their family is not present,” she said.

Romero said she cares for patients battling COVID-19 in the highly infectious disease unit. She said she is often present during the toughest of times.

“I don’t let my patients pass away alone,” she said. “I try my best to be there with them during those last moments.”

Tabatha Ketner, a nurse at Houston Methodist, is also working in the highly infectious disease unit.

“We’re even limited to our amount of time in the room, but we’re making the most of it,” she said. “We want those families to know we’re doing the best.”

This level of care cannot be taught, said Romero.

“(Some) skills you are able to learn in school. But the emotional part, being compassionate, sympathetic, the empathic, you can’t learn it from a book. It’s something that’s within you.”

Despite the emotional toll and the heaviness, these heroes said they would do it all again.

“You can’t take the grief you’re experiencing.. into the next room, because we’re still trying to minister hope for the patients who have the opportunity to recover,” Ketner said.

Perhaps one death, a 93-year-old man named Richard Steubinger, weighs on the Houston Methodist nurses.

“Whenever I hear his name, it’s still a little odd,” Romero said. “I referred to him as Grandpa.”

Romero said she stayed with Steubinger until his final breath.

“While he was passing, the song Amazing Grace was playing in the background, and that made the whole experience a little more emotional,” she said.

According to Romero, Steubinger had a special place in the hearts of many in the COVID-19 unit health care workers, including Ketner.

“Even when he wasn’t feeling well, it was almost like he was trying to make us feel better,” Ketner said. “He would just light up the room.”

Steubinger died after a two-week battle with coronavirus, Ketner said.

“We didn’t just care for him,” Ketner said. “We cared about him.”