Caregivers at Acuity Specialty Hospital are Heroes to New Jersey Family

With Acuity Specialty Hospital of Southern New Jersey on her side, COVID-19 patient, Mrs. Mai Nguyen was never alone. Beyond the round-the-clock care amid all the unknowns of the coronavirus pandemic throughout Mrs. Nguyen’s 25-day hospitalization at the facility in Willingboro, is the admiration of a very grateful family.

“Acuity brought her back to us,” Theresa Nguyen says of her mother, a 61-year-old retired school teacher with pre-existing heart and lung issues whose life-threatening ordeal with COVID-19 began in April.  Theresa, too, praised the lifesaving care her mother received at Jefferson Cherry Hill Hospital, where she was hospitalized for 33 days before being transferred to Acuity in mid-May.    

Acuity, a 69-bed long term acute care hospital (LTACH) is specifically designed and staffed to provide critical care to patients who are either ventilator dependent or have other medically complex conditions – more recently, including COVID-19. 

Just prior to her arrival at Acuity, Mrs. Nguyen had a tracheostomy to assist her breathing. Previously, she was intubated on a ventilator for 16 days.

“Helping patients like Mrs. Nguyen and their families is the very core of Acuity’s mission,” says Judy Weaver, MBA, BSN, RN, executive vice president and chief clinical officer. “With any sickness there are fears,” says the 47-year nursing/administration veteran, adding that the mysteries surrounding COVID-19 add extra layers of complexity, for patients and their families as well as health care providers. While more patients without COVID-19 than with the disease continue to be treated at Acuity’s facilities in New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia, the hospital’s multi-disciplinary approach to provide evidence-based care to every referral is unwavering, and second to none, she says. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Acuity adheres to guidelines as they are released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

COVID-19 strikes  

Theresa feared the worst the moment her father called in the wee hours of April 13, worried because her mother came down with sudden chills, high temperature, congested cough, labored breathing, fatigue, headache, nausea, and loss of taste and smell. 

Mrs. Nguyen, like other members of the tightknit family, had downplayed the safety warnings, though she did practice some social distancing and wore a mask after the state went on lockdown, says Theresa. While an aunt and uncle who reside with her parents in their Collingswood home were never tested, they also exhibited similar symptoms just weeks prior to Theresa’s mother falling ill. The couple isolated themselves in the home as they cared for each other, and both have fully recovered, according to Theresa.        

Mrs. Nguyen was tested for the coronavirus on April 16. When the test came back positive for COVID-19 two days later, Mrs. Nguyen’s family decided to contact her pulmonologist.

 “She was declining really fast,” recalls Theresa. At her doctor’s advice, Mrs. Nguyen was rushed on April 18 to Jefferson, where she was admitted and within hours she was intubated and placed on a ventilator. During her hospitalization at Jefferson, she suffered setbacks, including heart failure. She coded three times throughout the 16 days while intubated. 

At one point, after the family lost all hope, Theresa began making preparations for the beloved matriarch’s funeral. But, out of the blue, her mother started to show signs of rebounding and within days, Theresa was preparing for her mother’s transfer to Acuity on May 15. “It was like a sudden reset,” says Theresa. “We were lucky to have Willingboro accept us and have a bed available to take her.”

Communication is paramount at Acuity

At Acuity, Mrs. Nguyen had her own room on a COVID-only floor. Her days consisted of various therapy sessions to relearn some basic skills, and gain overall strength. Mai even gained back a few of the 22 pounds she had lost since she became ill.

While being separated from her mother because of the strict visitation ban due to COVID-19 was very hard, Theresa said her family appreciated Acuity’s attention to overall safety. “We touched base with the nurses every day … they sent us reports.”

“Communication never fell through the cracks,” says Theresa. “That was the biggest plus because we felt very reassured … Mom’s social worker even called weekly, and after her release to check on her.” 

Theresa says every nurse who took time from their busy shift to help her mother connect with family through Facetime is a hero in her book. Because her mother was fully sedated during her entire time at Jefferson, she was unaware of how sick she was in real time. “That was really a blessing,” adds Theresa.

During Mrs. Nguyen’s stay at Acuity, Theresa and other family members eased into sharing with her just some of the details of her early illness. When she came off the breathing tube and gained enough strength, she began using a message board to communicate.  At her worst, her mother remembers feeling as if she was “hit by a truck,” according to Theresa. 

Homecoming day

Theresa describes her mother’s homecoming day as surreal. “It was just so emotional,” she says.

Inside Acuity, caregivers had lined the hallways and clapped as Mrs. Nguyen was brought out to reunite with her family. Theresa said her father was relieved beyond words to greet his wife of 33 years at the front door.

“When she came out she looked amazing,” recalls Theresa. “She looked as if she wasn’t sick a day.” 

Since her discharge, Mrs. Nguyen has been recovering at Theresa’s home in Voorhees, which the devoted daughter describes as a “very controlled” environment. Her mother still battles bouts of fatigue and coughing.   

 “She is getting stronger with each passing day,” says Theresa, who will forevermore count her family among Acuity’s biggest fans.