Community bands together to find rides for snowed-in hospital staff
CHEYENNE — Two hours after DeAnna Rose, a certified nursing assistant at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, finished her shift Saturday, she got a call that completely changed the course of the next 24 hours.
Rose’s aunt had been rushed to CRMC with a brain aneurysm, and she wasn’t going to make it. The CNA was told she could say her final goodbyes before her shift the next morning, but when she woke up Sunday, nearly 4-foot snow drifts had accumulated outside her window at Sundance Apartments.
Digging her car out was useless, because it’s too low-riding to get through the snow on the road, so she was going to need a ride.
“I tried everything,” Rose said, “including walking to a side road, but the ride that was supposed to get me had picked up three doctors and didn’t realize they were supposed to pick me up, too.”
Rose took to Facebook as a last resort, posting in several groups asking for a lift to the hospital.
On the group Cheyenne Community Connections, she eventually found a woman whose husband, Jake Smith, was driving medical professionals to work on his snowmobile.
“She said he was on his way, and I’ve had people say they were on their way and didn’t come, but sure enough, 10 minutes later, he was at my door,” Rose said. “He even offered me some extra gloves to wear. I offered him money, and he said, ‘No, go do what you need to do.’”
Rose’s aunt died at 5 p.m. Sunday, and even though she didn’t make it in time to say goodbye, she said the unexpected snowmobile ride was God’s way of telling her to get to work and help others in need of medical attention.
But the ride was more than a help for others – it also ensured she could support her family.
“That would have been three days without work, and I’m a single mom, so three days without work is a big impact,” Rose said. “I’m very grateful.”
Smith was one of several locals helping CRMC employees get to work Sunday and Monday.
Another was 17-year-old Ethan Healey, who was gifted his snowmobile three months ago by his grandfather after deciding he was too old to ride it anymore. That gift took on a new meaning at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, when the Healeys’ neighbor, Dr. Damon Kennedy, got a call from the ER about a vascular trauma case at CRMC. The two other doctors who would normally perform the required surgery – Dr. Jeremy Gates and Dr. Elias Kfoury – were completely snowed in at home, so a neighbor tried to help Kennedy dig his own vehicle out to go perform the emergency procedure.
After about an hour and a half of digging in windy conditions, it became obvious that his car wasn’t getting out.
That’s when Healey came in. The teen had just snowmobiled over to check on his grandparents, and his mom had posted on Facebook that he was available for rides.
So Kennedy layered up, grabbed his backpack and hopped on the back of the snowmobile to brave the poor road conditions en route to the hospital.
“If you’ve ever been snowmobiling on trails, that’s one thing, but … we had to stay on the service road on Bishop (Boulevard), and we were sliding and fishtailing, and I bet eight or 10 times he put his leg down to try to keep us from flipping over because he was trying to go however fast the thing would let us go,” Kennedy said. “It took us about 25 minutes to go five miles.”
Now Kennedy is at the hospital without a car for at least the next couple days, but he’s thankful he could make it for the two surgeries he had scheduled.
After his trip with Kennedy, Healey picked up a couple more doctors, a nurse, a Target employee and a man walking down the road who asked for help. He’s happy he had a chance to participate in a (likely) once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Being able to help people out and knowing that you might have saved someone’s life, that was a pretty good feeling,” Healey said. “I really like riding snowmobiles, so it was a way to have fun, but also help people out.”
Another CRMC employee Healey drove was Dr. Andrew Rose, a pediatrician who had a sick child to tend to in the ER.
Although Rose said it wasn’t as urgent as it was for Kennedy to get to the hospital, he was still thankful to get to CRMC safely and stay overnight in case anything else happened.
“It was definitely a fun way to get to work,” he said with a laugh. “I typically ride my bike, and that wasn’t happening.”
Unlike his colleague, Dr. Rose only rode with Healey part of the way to the hospital. Sandra Johnson, a charge nurse on the 8th floor, met them en route to the hospital to drive him the rest of the way in her truck. Johnson was scheduled to work Monday and offered to pick several colleagues up on her way in, but when she got there, her role quickly shifted from her typical job as charge nurse to transport specialist.
“Unfortunately, we were under our severe winter weather plan, which says we all have to stay in place and make sure all shifts are covered, so (no employee) was allowed to leave when we arrived because we had to make sure it was safe for people to go and return,” she said. “Then we did receive permission through my manager, and we started on a small scale.”
One of the employees Johnson drove home was a lab tech who had been working for 30 hours, sleeping intermittently, but still getting tasks completed.
“It turned into a snowball effect from there,” Johnson said, noting that another charge nurse went out on her 4-wheeler to help get people in for their night shifts. “It was a beautiful sequence of events. We had staff on our floor who were able to stay in, allowing for us to get people in to relieve previous shifts.”
In total, she gave rides – either to or from work – to 18 of her CRMC colleagues Monday.
“I’m very proud of the place I work and the people I work with, and it’s critical to me that we take care of the people we work with,” she said, noting that some of her coworkers trudged through hip-high snow to get to her truck because they were determined to help their patients. “We spend 12-13 hours here at least three or four days a week, and especially with COVID, four days or more. You take care of your family, whether it’s a work family or home family.”
Tim Thornell, president and CEO of the Cheyenne Regional health system, expressed his gratitude in a written statement.
“The blizzard has disrupted our city and county in many ways ... but it has not limited our hospital’s resolve to meet the medical needs of our community,” he said. “Our dedicated physicians, nurses and countless essential staff members made it to work and stayed at work to provide uninterrupted hospital care. This dedication was matched by heroic members of our community who helped hospital staff make it to work by providing rides on snowmobiles, via snowcat and in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Thank you, Cheyenne and Laramie County, for your unwavering and amazing support!”
Several other community members stepped up to help essential workers early this week, including Brittney Kotunok (who transported staff to CRMC’s Davis Hospice Center via snowmobile), Richard and Crystal Rosner (who transported utility workers around town via snowmobile) and Brad Walters, a former Encampment search and rescue team member.
Walters hopped on his snowmobile to transport medical workers Monday when his friend called to say that Jeanine West, director at Cheyenne-Laramie County Emergency Management, had asked for their help.
Walters had one trick up his sleeve that most of his fellow snowmobilers didn’t: he chose to use the Greater Cheyenne Greenway, rather than the streets, so he could stay out of the way of plows and emergency vehicles.
“I grew up helping people like this my whole life, so it’s nothing new to me,” Walters said. “When people are in need, you do whatever you can to help them out.”