Southwest Airlines posted a viral photo of healthcare workers headed to NYC to help fight the coronavirus. This is the story of one of those nurses.

Southwest Airlines healthcare workers photo

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines flight with healthcare workers before takeoff from Atlanta (ATL) to New York (LGA) to assist in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Letha Love is a registered nurse who usually works at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta Georgia
  • Last Friday, she boarded a plane to fly to New York City, along with 28 other healthcare workers, to help out with the coronavirus pandemic there. Before her flight departed, a Southwest Airlines employee snapped a photo of the workers, which has since gone viral with over 31,500 likes on Instagram.
  • Love arrived in New York on Friday and her first shift at a hospital in New York City was Sunday.
  • "One of reasons why it was easy for me to accept this position was because everyday I was going back home from the hospital and if I were exposed, I would have exposed my children," Love said.
  • Read live updates about the coronavirus here 

On Friday, Southwest Airlines Flight 979 was set to depart from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta  International Airport in Atlanta to LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

On board were 29 healthcare workers who were flying to New York to help with the coronavirus pandemic in the city.Advertisement

'Please come help us in New York now'

New York state has been hit hard by the virus with over 76,000 confirmed cases as of Tuesday evening. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been calling for healthcare workers to volunteer to help.

"As governor of New York, I am asking health care professionals across the country: If you don't have a health care crisis in your community, please come help us in New York now," Cuomo said at a briefing of the crisis on Monday. "We need relief." 

New York has also been surveying students and faculty at medical schools to see if they are willing to supplement the state's healthcare system as it battles coronavirus, as previously reported by Business Insider. 
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Last week, several medical schools in New York City announced that they would graduate fourth year medical schools early to help on the frontlines of the virus.

According to NurseFly, a staffing agency that flies healthcare workers to fill vacant spots in areas in the US, demand on the company's platform increased more than 90% in March amid the COVID-19 crisis and demand in New York state doubled during the month. 

The photo that went viral

Before the flight departed, a Southwest employee snapped a photo of the workers, which has since gone viral with over 31,500 likes on Instagram.Advertisement

The healthcare workers on board "were in good spirits and wanted to do their part to help those in need," a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines told Business Insider. "Our Crew thanked them for their service and sacrifice and wished them well on their journey ahead." 

 

Letha Love is a registered nurse who usually works at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. She told Business Insider she took a leave of absence to help healthcare workers in New York, where the hospitals have become overwhelmed with patients and reportedly undersupplied with proper personal protective equipment. Advertisement

With kids at home, Love said that she was concerned about exposing her family to the virus if she were to get infected. 

"One of reasons why it was easy for me to accept this position was because everyday I was going back home from the hospital and if I were exposed, I would have exposed my children," Love said. "If I'm exposed here, I can't expose my kids. I would be able to quarantine and get better and go home."

Read also: The next wave of coronavirus outbreaks is threatening cities from New Orleans to Philadelphia, and it reveals the US is on pace for a national epidemicAdvertisement

Love currently works the night shift at a hospital in New York, from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and said she plans on staying in New York for a month or two, though she is seeing how things play out on a day to day basis. If things get worse in Georgia sooner than expected, Love says she plans to return home to help out with the crisis there.

"You never know," she said. "I don't want to get stuck in New York when my kids are at home." 

The first day: 'It shocked me when I first walked into the hospital'

Love arrived in New York on Friday and after an orientation on Saturday, she took on her first shift at the intensive care unit on Sunday night. Advertisement

"That was when shock came for me," she said. "It shocked me when I first walked into the hospital."

Love said that the sheer number of patients with COVID-19 at her hospital was unexpected. It seemed like every patient she was coming in contact with either had the virus or was trying to recover.Based on her conversations with the other healthcare workers who flew to New York with her, who are working in hospitals around the city, Love says it seems they're all experiencing similar situations. Advertisement

"It's a shock at first but shock goes away real quick because we have to take care of these people, we're trying to recover people, not trying to let people die," Love said. "We want to get people to recover. We do."

'This is traumatic'

Love said because she's worked in ICUs and hospices before, she's seen people die. But she describes her current experience as something on a completely different level. "I've just never been in a place where there was that much death at one time where death is just around you," she said. 

"I kind of feel like when I go back home, or anyone working in this environment, when all of this is over, everyone will have PTSD." Love continued. "I'm not a psychiatrist but I am saying this is traumatic, very traumatic."Advertisement

"It doesn't have a face, it doesn't have a color, it doesn't have an age, it doesn't have a creed," she said. "It's just a virus that is there and waiting and we have to protect ourselves from it."

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