Family of COVID-19 patient brainstormed to stay connected, now donates to help others

The Drye family during a 2016 vacation to Hawaii in celebration of Wayne and Mary's 50th wedding anniversary. Photo Courtesy Richard Drye

Wayne Drye was at home cooking with his wife when he began to feel ill. The 78-year-old owner of World Insurance Association was known for his consistent positive mental attitude. It was an outlook his family would soon employ to stay connected with him when he wound up hospitalized with COVID-19 last spring.

Although Drye died from the virus, his family made a donation to share technology that let them stay in contact with him during three weeks when he was on a ventilator and unable to have visitors or communicate. In August, they donated 47 iPads and 27 device stands to Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital to help other patients and family members stay in communication while physically separated.

While Drye was unable to communicate, his family compiled several recorded sets of messages from family and friends telling Drye how he had influenced and inspired them over the years. Nurses placed headphones on Drye hoping he could hear the different sets of audio recordings, which were sometimes as long as 10 hours, his son said. The messages were played daily in Drye’s ear through an iPad set beside him on a pillow.

Richard Drye, of Milton, who arranged the recorded audio sets and placed them on a private YouTube link for nurses to access, said about a week before his father died he was taken off the ventilator and gave a sign that he had heard them.

A nurse had assisted in arranging a few moments of family FaceTime. Richard Drye recalled his father couldn’t speak, but could respond with blinks. “I asked him, ‘Are you enjoying the messages? Do you want us to keep doing them?’” Richard Drye said. “He blinked the biggest blinks you could imagine. We knew he was hearing them.”

The Drye family is pictured with nurses and staff at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital in August when they donated 47 iPads. Photo Courtesy Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital

The gift of iPads and stands was paid for with $18,000 in donations the family raised through the Wayne Drye Memorial Fund. Drye’s daily mantra “I feel happy, healthy and terrific” is engraved on the back of the iPads.

Heather Dexter, hospital CEO, said that before the donation there were only 10 iPads for the medical facility’s 17 nursing units. One was on the COVID unit. The family’s gift ensures not only are patients cared for medically, their mental and spiritual health is cared for too, she said.

The hospital is preparing for a second wave of the coronavirus. “It’s a very different environment here without visitors," Dexter said.

Mary Drye, who was married to Wayne for 54 years, said the iPad idea helped the family feel connected to her husband, and nurses confirmed his positive reactions.

Nurse Tanya Snipes said that even while sedated, Drye’s facial expressions would change as he listened to the recorded messages and his vitals improved.

“I’ve been a nurse for 20 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this (pandemic),” she said. “I didn’t realize how important families were for patients' healing.”

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