VA nurses return from the frontlines in New Orleans, share message for Houston

HOUSTON – Two of Houston’s healthcare warriors are back home from battle in one of the nation’s hardest-hit areas for coronavirus.

Crystal Morris, a surgical ICU nurse, and Dustin Ayres, a registered nurse, both volunteered with five other colleagues from the DeBakey VA Medical Center to work in New Orleans’ VA hospital. The need in The Big Easy was dire.

“To see 27 ventilated patients that were really sick on multiple drips to keep their blood pressure up, to keep them sedated was just really overwhelming,” Morris said.

The group spent two weeks at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Medical Center. At one point, they were losing up to seven patients a day.

The healthcare team battled complications like blood clots and organ failure, caused by the coronavirus and underlying conditions. The most significant challenge was respiratory failure.

“Inadequate oxygenation,” Morris said. “A lot of it was because of the thick mucous secretions that they had. I mean, the secretions were so thick it was kind of like putty.”

Ayres spent 10 years in the army and said he wanted to be a nurse from the day he was discharged. He said he felt it was his duty to answer the call to help his fellow veterans. With hands-on experience fighting COVID-19, he said he feels obligated to encourage the rest of us in our social distancing.

“I saw young, healthy individuals in the ICU fighting for their life when I was in New Orleans,” he said. “This virus, it’s not just the flu. It’s dangerous. People need to know that what they’re doing though, is helping.”

The group of nurses was tested for coronavirus when they returned to Houston nearly two weeks ago. They all tested negative but were required to quarantine for 14 days. They expect to return to work Monday.

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