By Colleen Sparks
Lauren Leander is on the frontlines helping patients fight against the Coronavirus as a nurse at Banner University Medical Center but her support and compassion go far beyond Phoenix.
The 27-year-old critical care registered nurse and North Central Phoenix resident has chosen to work in the COVID-19 Critical Care Department, where she spends long hours assisting patients of all ages with breathing tubes connected to ventilators as they struggle to breathe and recover from the deadly virus. Outside of work she and fellow Banner Health COVID-19 nurse Brittany Schilling and two other nurses: Jasmine Bhatti and Jade Juriansz, are organizing a fundraiser through GoFundMe to raise money for the Navajo Nation, which has bit hit especially hard by the Coronavirus. As of late May, more than $106,000 had been raised through their efforts, above Leander’s original goal of raising $20,000.
Leander said the Navajo Nation is suffering tremendously from COVID-19 as one in five of its residents suffer from diabetes and one in three struggles with obesity, underlying conditions that make the virus especially dangerous. She added many of them do not have running water or electricity in their homes. Leander said the money raised would provide medical supplies, food, water, masks, gowns, gloves and other materials needed to try to keep people on the Navajo Nation safe and help healthcare workers treat patients there.
“They are dying at four times the rate of all other minority groups combined,” Leander said. “They make up such a large majority of the people we care for every day. Their struggles weigh heavily on our hearts.”
A Sunnyslope High School and Arizona State University graduate, she said GoFundMe officials have been very supportive of the fundraising efforts and she is thrilled to see people from Ireland, Australia, Canada and Thailand donating money to the cause. A nurse for six years, Leander and her fellow healthcare professionals at Banner University Medical Center have seen many patients who live on the Navajo Nation airlifted to the hospital with COVID-19. One woman in her 20s died of COVID and Leander and the doctor who treated her cried together after she passed.
“This virus was so much bigger than we realized,” she said.
Leander said initially healthcare workers thought the virus would mainly affect immunocompromised, older adults but they have seen people in their 20s up to their 70s who have contracted COVID-19. People who ordinarily are considered healthy have become “very, very sick” from the virus, she said.
“When you step foot onto the (COVID-19) unit, it’s just absolute chaos,” Leander said. “It’s loud, it’s busy. Our beds are completely full. Our patients are the most labor intensive patients we’ve ever cared for.”
She said because she is young and healthy and does not have children she wanted to take care of COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Leander and other nurses stood silently as a way to represent COVID-19 patients and healthcare professionals as a counter-protest when hundreds of people gathered near the Arizona state Capitol in April pushing Gov. Doug Ducey to end the stay-at-home order that shut down non-essential businesses in March.
She said she greatly appreciates the support of people around the country, who have sent her letters, cards and gifts to thank her for her work.
“It’s just amazing,” Leander said. “After a really tough shift, I get to come home and open letters that are so uplifting.”
To donate to support the Navajo Nation, visit gofundme.com/f/support-navajo-nation.