Hundreds of thousands of Americans have experienced the overwhelming stress of seeing loved ones struggling to breathe with COVID-19 symptoms, rushing them to the hospital and then having to leave them at the door due to coronavirus safety precautions.
Ivana Popovic, a nurse at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, experienced the helplessness firsthand when her father, Bratislav Popovic, had to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and was in a bed all alone with no family allowed to see him.
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She works on another floor in a different unit than where her dad was being treated in Sparrow Hospital. The hospital's protocol meant she could not be by his bedside to comfort him even though he was right in the same building.
That all changed recently when Dr. Mindy Lane, the surgery department chair at Sparrow Hospital, pushed for a new policy to allow patients to reunite with one family member for a short time, with the visiting loved one wearing personal protective equipment.
The new policy led to an emotional reunion this week between father and daughter as the nurse visited her dad and held his hands as the two cried together.
"I love you so much," Bratislav Popovic said.
"I love you," his daughter replied.
"I am OK now, don't worry," he reassured her.
The new rule allows one family member to visit one COVID-19 patient for one hour.
"It was just amazing," Ivana Popovic told Ellison Barber on TODAY Thursday. "No words were needed. Just the touch through the gloves, it's so powerful."
Popovic had lived with the constant anxiety of hoping her father's condition was stable as she went about her workday.
"You hear codes going off, and you’re like, 'Oh, my God, what room?'" she said.
Barber witnessed the special reunion after putting on the PPE, including an air-purifying respirator, that any family member is required to wear at Sparrow Hospital before visiting a COVID-19 patient.
Lane spearheaded the change to give families distraught about their loved ones a chance to see them through more than just a video call on an iPad. The hospital's capacity levels are stable, and infection and hospitalization rates in Michigan have dropped in recent weeks, which contributed to the decision.
"We have the PPE. We have the resources," Lane told Barber. "I know that this is not the right thing for everybody, everywhere right now in the midst of COVID. But it's the right thing for us here at Sparrow Hospital today."
The hospital had allowed close to 80 COVID-19 patients to be visited by family wearing PPE as of Thursday morning, including the heartwarming reunion of the Popovic family.
"The best Christmas gift forever," Bratislav Popovic said.
"You want to keep that moment forever," his daughter said. "You have to make every moment count."