Florida XC, T&F Alumni Lead Pandemic Frontlines

Stevie Uribe Wydra

Stevie Wydra was a standout athlete at the Oak Hall School in Gainesville, winning state championships in the 3200 in 2002 as a 7th grader and then the mile in 2004. She also anchored Oak Hall's state championship 4 by 800 relay teams in 2003 and 2004.

The one thing that she learned as an athlete that helps her as a nurse is to always show up.

"One thing that I've really learned from running that has stuck with me in particularly in COVID times is showing up every day," she said. "Even when you're tired and don't want to, you know what you have to do and you just do it because that's what you've always done."

On the track, Wydra showed up when it mattered most. Now as a nurse, on the frontlines of a pandemic, she continues to show up to make a difference. 

Wydra and her coworkers have worked diligently to help patients who have contracted the virus. She admits that things were scary early on, but things have since improved.

"It hasn't been so bad," she said. "..It was kind of scary, but as it went on, the numbers that were coming out weren't as scary as we thought they were going to be, so it got better. But it was kind of scary at the beginning."

Wydra works as a hospice nurse for Elevation Hospice and as a nurse for the Denver Health Hospital. At Denver Health, she works as a surgical nurse, but she floats anywhere in the Acute care unit when they need her.

Wydra worked specifically with COVID patients early on in the process. Anyone who tested positive for the virus was sent to an area where there's negative pressure in the room, so that everyone who had the virus was contained in one place. 

"It was pretty crazy," she said. "I worked in Acute care, so I had four patients, two of them were 22 years old. I'd just never seen anything like that because usually a healthy 22-year-old is not on 15 layers of oxygen. It was kind of scary to see them go from perfectly healthy to 'Oh my God, does this patient need to go to the ICU and be intubated.'"

Wydra was supposed to start as a hospice nurse back in March before the pandemic hit, but due to COVID-19, she started in May. Starting her job as a hospice nurse during the pandemic has been hectic. 

"It's been pretty crazy starting at hospice during this," she said. "I go to a lot of nursing facilities and families can't come visit their loved ones. A lot of these patients are incredibly old, deteriorating, declining in their physical abilities...and there's been a significant decline with people because usually the thing that keeps them going is there loved ones, and there not able to see their loved ones. That's been really sad."

Wydra embraces the responsibility of helping and taking care of her elderly patients as a nurse, but admits that it's not easy, especially since her elderly patients can't physically connect with their families. 

"It's been just really sad," she said. "For me, my grandparents died a few years ago and I can't imagine not being with them the last few months of their life. It's a special time - it's the last time you're going to spend with them. Physical touch is an important piece of nursing, especially in hospice...the little special touches, you can't really do right now, so it's been tough. At the same time, someone's got take care of these people during this time and I'm grateful that I can at least go see my patients."

Wydra is also a yoga teacher in addition to being a nurse. But since the yoga studios are closed, she's picked back up running as well as doing yoga at home to help her mentally decompress. She says that her team at the hospital has been a huge help to her throughout the pandemic.

"Nursing is similar to track because it's a team sport, but it's not a team sport," she said. "You have your own patient, but you're still in it together. I've certainly been relying on my team lately and it's how I got through."

Stevie works in a Safety net hospital, which centers around low-income and uninsured patients. Getting the opportunity to help serve them gives her an even greater sense of pride during this pandemic.

"I've always had a sense of pride that's like heck yeah, I get a chance to help people who are less fortunate than me, but like now in particular it's like heck yeah, I get a chance to be apart of history," she said. "It's pretty cool."

Since the pandemic has started, Wydra said that she's gotten free meals when she works at the hospital. One day while she was taking care of a patient, she looked out the window and saw about 15 people standing 6 feet apart with big signs that said things like "thank you and we love you."

 She admits that nurses are notoriously underappreciated, but during this pandemic, she feels the love and appreciation for what she does. 

"Never have I felt more appreciated," she said. "It's truly fantastic."

Wydra takes pride in the job that she does as a nurse and draws inspiration from not only what she does, but the group of people in the medical profession that she works with.

"I feel a huge sense of inspiration from being a nurse," she said. "If there's ever going to be a time in the world where nurses and doctors are the answer - who better than to save the world than nurses and doctors. Never have I ever met a group of people who are more caring, more hardworking, smarter - just a great group of people. I'm inspired to be a part of it and I feel a huge sense of pride when I go into work every day."