Daisy Rivera lost both of her parents to the coronavirus while they were in critical care at Northside Hospital Duluth. However, a nurse there helped her grieve and became her “guiding angel” through the sadness and loss.
Damar Lewis was still a new nurse in the intensive care unit at Northside Duluth when the pandemic hit full force. Barriers were erected to keep down the risk of infection. “It was a very isolating experience,” he remembered. “You really couldn’t be with your family, and then at work, you were isolated.”
It was also isolating for families who couldn’t visit their loved ones in the hospital.
While her parents were on life support, Rivera said, her mother died. Nevertheless, she pressed on through her grief because her father was still a patient. His nurse was Lewis, whom Rivera calls “my angel on Earth.”
Lewis was presented with an AJC Nurse Excellence Award on Tuesday afternoon after Rivera nominated him last fall. More than 800 nurses were nominated, with 10 receiving nursing awards.
“When he answered the phone, I felt his warmth and compassion immediately. Before I could get any words out, he started the call by expressing his condolences for the loss of my mother and reassured me that he was there for me in any way I needed him to be,” Rivera wrote, in nominating Lewis for an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Celebrating Nurses award.
Lewis let her know he would be praying, and she could call him anytime for updates or to talk. Rivera said those midnight chats became a break from all the sadness and worry. Once, when Lewis put her father on Facetime so they could see each other, Rivera could also see the nurse, “suited up with masks and gowns, putting his life at risk to save my dad,” she wrote.
Lewis said he would look forward to those late-night calls from Rivera. He got to know her family through their conversations, and she told him funny stories about her parents.
Rivera’s father, too, was dying, and she was told she could see him one last time. Though her father died before she could get to the hospital, Rivera went into his room, and Lewis met her there. They shared sorrow over the loss.
“It was very emotional because when you take care of somebody for so long, you build a bond with your patients,” he said. “At that point, I didn’t care about social distancing or no touching — she was there alone, and I was not going to let her be alone.”
Rivera said Lewis gave his all to help her get through the loss of both her parents.
“It was a profound moment in my nursing career.,” Lewis said. “I’m glad I could have that type of impact during COVID. It definitely gave me the reassurance of why I decided to become a nurse.”
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Read more about the nurses honored at this year’s ceremony:
Shannan Browning, Piedmont Healthcare
Lauren DePietro, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital
Sarah Harper, Wellstar Cobb Hospital
Rose Horton, Emory Healthcare
Gina Papa, Clarkston Community Health Center
Deepa Patel, Wellstar Shared Services
Andrew Perea, Kaiser Permanente
Cherish Ramirez, Piedmont Healthcare
Julie Singleton, Northeast Georgia Health System
Denise Ray, Piedmont Healthcare: Nurse Leader Award
Current job: Registered nurse at Northside Duluth in Gwinnett County. He was working full time in property management when he decided to go back to school at night and get his nursing degree.
Years of experience: 4
Educational background in nursing: BSN, RN-CCRN from Western Governors University
Family info: Lewis is the first in his family to earn a college degree, an accomplishment he wanted to be an inspiration to his 15-year-old brother. “I wanted him to see it doesn’t matter where your beginnings are; it’s all about what you make of life.”