National Nurses Week: St. Louis-area COVID-19 survivor embarks on nursing career

Richelle Herron graduating from STLCC-Flo Valley to Mercy Hospital

by Pat Matreci
St. Louis Community College

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our lives for the foreseeable future, Richelle Herron has a renewed sense of purpose.

Herron, 38, will graduate with an associate degree in nursing from St. Louis Community College in May. Her life was turned upside down in mid-March when COVID-19 attacked her family. The virus claimed the life of her beloved grandmother, Josie Lee Everett.

Herron and her husband, Carl Herron, as well as Herron’s mother, Carolyn Wallace, all were infected and required hospitalization. They all have been discharged and continue to recover.

The death of her grandmother, herself a nurse for 50 years, has been particularly painful.
“I deal with grief on a daily basis because my grandmother and I were closer than close. She was my grandmother, sister, best friend, mentor, everything. She raised me when I was a newborn while my mother was in the military. We have a bond that death cannot break,” Herron said.

“But it is indescribably difficult to be outside of her presence right now, especially with my completion of school. I wanted her to be the one to pin me at our pinning ceremony. Not only is that impossible now, but there will not be a pinning due to the social distancing issues.”

Herron credits her faith, resolve to excel in whatever she commits herself to do, and a strong sense of purpose in leadership as elements that push her through this emotional and physical storm.

“Nursing is in my DNA,” said Herron, whose mother also has been a nurse for more than 25 years. “I have a background in customer service, but I’ve always been interested in helping and understanding others, medicine and how to best make an impact on the world that will last when I leave.”

With graduation on the horizon, Herron is well prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

“Having been a COVID-19 patient, experiencing the fear of the unknown, the psychological toll of isolation, and the pain of familial loss from this pandemic, I know that the healthcare professionals—but mainly the nurses who took care of me and my family—made and continue to make the difference,” Herron said.

“Personally, nurses were my point of contact. They had the most personal contact with me, gave me medicine, brought me my food, and helped me move around my room when I was too weak to do those things on my own.”
While recovering and continuing her studies, Herron, who serves as the president of the STLCC-Florissant Valley Student Nurses Association, shared some insights with her fellow students in a very personal letter. Herron’s letter has been shared with the director of education for the Missouri Board of Nursing for publication in a newsletter that is distributed to all licensed nurses in the state.

“This is a time of self-inventory and fortified resolve. If there was ever a time for dedicated, fire-tested nurses with a heart to make a difference, this is IT. WE ARE THOSE NURSES!!” she wrote.

“We’ve BEEN doing this. We’ve taken care of patients with HIV, MRSA, cancer, post-operative, and other precautions. We’ve been the liaison between our patients healing and the challenges they face! We’ve been there when life enters the world and we’ve comforted those who are transitioning! FLO VALLEY NURSES ARE TRAINED to RESPOND IN times such as THESE!!”

Karen Mayes, professor in nursing who also serves as STLCC’s director of nursing education, said she knew Herron had a heart for making a difference from the first time the two met.

“She genuinely wants to help others, whether it be through her service as the Florissant Valley Student Nurse Association president, her many communications of support to the students, and through heart-to-heart thoughtful conversations with faculty and administrators on how to improve the educational process,” Mayes said.

“Now, as someone who has survived being a COVID-19 patient, she will have a new outlook and be better able to provide empathetic care to her patients as she soon enters the nursing profession.”

Herron will join the staff of Mercy Hospital St. Louis. The Spanish Lake resident, who will celebrate her 11th wedding anniversary on July 4, is ready to embark on a mission to defeat not only this pandemic, but also whatever challenges are thrown at her profession.

“I hear a lot of people say that nursing is a job that they admire, but they just don’t have the stomach or the nerves for,” Herron said. “They ask why anyone would willingly jump into such a dangerous and sometimes ‘thankless’ profession. I am eagerly anticipating the completion of our degree so that we can all get out there and join this fight. It is truly one that we have been trained for and one that we can win.”

(Pat Matreci is a content specialist at St. Louis Community College.)

(Reprinted from the St. Louis American)


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