Local respiratory therapist returns home after caring for COVID-19 patients in New York
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IDAHO FALLS — For Mountain View Hospital respiratory therapist Aaron Craythorn, responding to the call for help is part of his job — even if it means traveling thousands of miles from home.
In early April, Craythorn received a phone call asking if he’d be willing to go to Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, to care for some of the sickest COVID-19 patients in the country. After talking to his manager, family and praying about it, he felt that’s where he needed to be.
Less than a week later, Craythorn flew to New York where he spent a little over six weeks working at the hospital.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect,” he told EastIdahoNews.com. “They told me on the phone, ‘You’re literally going into a warzone.'”
Once he arrived, he only had a few hours of training. The following day was his first day on the job where he cared for 19 patients on ventilators. Craythorn said most days the hospital had at least 150 patients on ventilators.
Typically, Lincoln Medical Center has one floor dedicated to its intensive care unit, but with COVID-19, the hospital converted four additional floors to makeshift ICUs with two patients to a room, he explained.
“We’d be taking care of a patient, and we’d get called to another room and we’d have to go to that room because somebody was dying,” he said. “We had people die every day.”
A lot of the people who died were between 40 and 60, he added.
Craythorn said even though the job was extremely emotional and physically taxing, he never worried about his own health. His mother-in-law passed away in Dec. 2019, and he said before he left, he had the distinct feeling that she’d be by his side.
“There were times I broke down and cried because it was hard,” he said. “I’d go to my hotel at night and cry, but I could feel her arms around me. She was there with me.”
Although tears were shed, there were also happy moments. He explained that every time a patient was successfully taken off a ventilator, the hospital would play music across all of the floors. Each morning, the hospital started the day off by announcing how many patients were successfully breathing on their own again and how many people had been discharged.
The feeling that came with knowing some of the patients were returning to their families is something he’ll never forget and his selfless service to strangers is something many people will always remember.
“The real heroes in the fight against the coronavirus are the healthcare workers on the front lines,” James Adamson, CEO of Mountain View Hospital, said in a news release. “We are incredibly proud of all of our team members and the work they are doing right now. However, we are blown away by the sacrifices Aaron and others have made to go and serve in COVID-19 hot spots across the country.”
By the time Craythorn flew home on May 30, he said the hospital was treating all of the COVID-19 patients on the normal ICU floor.
After Craythorn’s experience in New York, he wants Idahoans to take the virus seriously. He encourages people to wash their hands frequently, stay home if they’re sick and wear masks in public.
“It’s the basic things that matter,” Craythorn said.