Many world leaders have likened the COVID-19 pandemic to a war. Health care professionals are on a global front line battling a deadly virus.
To highlight the hard work of nurses during this precarious time, the Daily Herald teamed with College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn for the Nominate a Nurse contest. It was timed to partially coincide with America's annual National Nurses Week, May 6 to 12.
From April 26 to May 7, Daily Herald readers were asked to nominate nursing professionals. Nominees had to have an RN or an LPN certification and live or work in Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry or Lake counties.
Voting ran from May 8-12. Readers voted on one winner: Barrington native Nicole Guido, a nurse for the past three years at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
The College of DuPage selected another winner: Chicago resident Julia Walczak, a soon-to-graduate student at Benedictine University in Lisle and a 2018 alumna of College of DuPage.
Guido said she was nominated by her sister's soon-to-be mother-in-law. She had been following Guido's Facebook posts explaining what nurses have been experiencing at work, including much of the hospital being converted into a dedicated coronavirus ICU.
"We're getting really creative with visitor restrictions and how we can get the family involved and incorporated with their loved one's care," said Guido, who brings in tablet computers for patients to talk with family members via Zoom meetings or FaceTime.
"(Patients are) just stuck -- unfortunately -- in these rooms by themselves and all they see is us walking in with all of our protective equipment," Guido said. "It's kind of impersonal, so the little things we can do really make a huge difference."
The restriction on visiting guests has also meant that Guido has had to hold the hands of a patient so he wouldn't die alone -- a key detail in her contest profile.
Nominate a Nurse co-winner Julie Walczak was nominated for the contest by some of her past College of DuPage professors.
Before the pandemic, Walczak was writing a grant proposal as part of an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship to educate the Polish community about the HPV vaccination and other preventive care in reproductive health.
Walczak also was working as a research specialist in Maywood at the Loyola University Medical Center's Burn and Shock Trauma Research Institute. The state lockdown prompted the institute to temporarily close, so Walczak volunteered to be the nursing coordinator for the National Student Response Network.
"I've been contacting nursing schools nationwide, with a specific focus on schools that are more rural," Walczak said. "We have all these educated, eager, young potential volunteer students who were sent home who can help, but they might not know how."
Walczak has helped to mobilize more than 5,000 students to help hospitals and health departments in need. Walczak has also made an effort to specifically reach out to the Navajo Nation, which has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
"Even as a student, or whoever you are, if all you can do is sit at home, you can contribute so much," Walczak said.
For their Nominate a Nurse prizes, Guido and Walczak will receive gift cards from local businesses, including Lurvey's Garden Center, Perry's Steakhouse and Deer Park Town Center.