Last year Anna Slayton was featured on Messy Mom as she opened up about the tragic loss of her son Gavin, and how she is determined to use his legacy to make a difference in this world.

She hasn’t slowed down one drop since I interviewed her last September. In fact, Anna Slayton was in the middle of pursuing her Master of Science in Nursing degree when she saw the COVID-19 crisis mounting in New York City. Despite being a mom, a nurse, and student she knew she had to join the fight as a relief nurse. So she temporarily left Texas for New York to help save lives. 

 Anna worked 12-hour overnight shifts for several weeks at a nursing facility caring for elderly patients with COVID-19. During her time in NYC, Anna was able to reflect on and think about the challenges she’s faced during the past few years, as well as about her career and future. It was during this time that she decided her true calling was to help take care of children, especially after the tragic loss of her 2-year-old son. She’s using her education for good through her health coaching service, Kardia Wellness, so she can continue to help others.

I am so grateful that Anna took the time to do a follow up interview with me. We are ALL affected by the Corona Virus and it’s truly remarkable to see how she has responded to the pandemic. Here is a small peek into some of what she experienced on the COVID-19 frontlines.

When and how did you know that you were called to volunteer on the front lines of the Corona Virus crisis? 

My husband and I were coming home from vacation with our kids over Spring Break in March 2020. As we were driving home from Gulf Shores, social media began to flood with news of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. We listened to the news station on the radio while driving home about cities starting to shut down and the case numbers increasing. I started to become so nervous about returning to work the next week. I work at a micro-hospital where staffing is minimal and patient ratios are smaller. I knew if the facility began to see COVID cases, it would all be on me. We did end up having two positive cases that gave me experience in caring for COVID patients and the ability to see the effect it was having on them. It was really puzzling for all of us in healthcare to watch. Thankfully, that helped me start to understand the treatment plan and protocols that were beginning to unfold.

How does that work? How do you navigate the logistics as a mom, a nursing student, and a nurse to just hop on a plane and jump in the trenches in New York? 

While watching the news at work, I watched the USNS Comfort pull into the New York City harbor and knew that as a wife, a mom and a nurse, this was my opportunity. Several of my colleagues had taken the call, so I decided to as well. I have a skillset that not everyone does that could be utilized to help save lives, so I ultimately knew it was my duty, to God, my Country and my family. As far as logistics, everyone was supportive and my kids have a great dad and stepdad, so I knew they were in good hands during my absence. As far as being a nursing student, I had just finished the clinical requirements for the course I was taking at Walden University before leaving and was able to work on the didactic portion of my class after work as usual. I just continued to press on in my Master of Science in Nursing degree program as I have always done for the past decade of my life.

  Were you scared? I’m sure you had a lot of emotions going on. Can you walk us through what that was like? 

I wasn’t scared when I left, but I was nervous. I left on April 15, when everything was still so overwhelming at the hospitals in New York. We were not assigned to a particular unit before leaving, so flying in you didn’t have a clue what type of unit you would be assigned to work in. In the nursing world, that is scary and overwhelming. I’m thankful for my years of experience, mostly in the emergency department, but also in medical-surgical nursing, step down and intensive care units and women’s health. On the plane, I was reading a critical care book and watching videos about critical care nursing because it had been a long time since I cared for ventilator patients and I wanted to be ready. It was also insane walking through empty airports and being only one of seven people traveling on an entire 737 plane. Watching the pandemic unfold in New York on the news was one thing, but living it out was even more unreal.

Leaving on that plane was also a relief, to be honest. I documented my journey in New York through social media, tagging all my thoughts with #atexaninnewyork, sharing how every day I was there God was working in my heart. For the last three years, all I have done is press forward and push through for the sake of everyone around me. Despite being busy with work, New York helped me to finally slow down. I had so much time to focus on myself and really evaluate where I had arrived in my healing journey since my youngest son died and process all of the hurtful events that have happened in my life. Going through trauma is a complicated thing, and I can definitely attest that if it is not fully processed, worked through and healed, it will continue to fester until you face it.

My assignment ended up being in a long-term care facility on the COVID-assigned floor for residents who tested positive for COVID or those who were there for rehabilitation after being hospitalized for COVID. There were a lot of very sad cases on our unit. One was a woman, in her late 80s, who had several comorbidities and was in the dying process. I had to help her daughter say goodbye to her mother over the phone, listening as she sang her mother songs and said her goodbyes. Since she wasn’t able to be there in person, I made it my priority to be there in her place. Over a few days, I held the woman’s hand and stayed at her bedside as much as possible until it was finally her time. It was a night of grieving, not only for my patient and her daughter, but in memory of all the loved ones I had lost not long before my son passed away. In only three short years, I had lost two uncles and both of my maternal grandparents, then shortly after, my son Gavin. I am not a stranger to death, but, because I am around it so often, it doesn’t always sting the way that it does with most. Many nurses can understand this. Being next to this dying woman, I wept and cried over my own losses, holding her hand in place of those that I wasn’t able to. Once she took her last breath, I called her daughter and wept with her as well. I won’t ever forget that night.

 Wow, that’s really incredible how you were able to find your own healing on this journey. So, how long were you there total? 

I flew back home to Texas on July 2, after my 77-day assignment. Coming home was a really huge adjustment. Of course, I was greeted with bells and whistles from my husband and kids, as well as many friends when I got home. But when I walked into my house, I realized how much clutter and memories from the past I still had around. It honestly shocked me. All of the healing and processing I did in New York truly transformed me from the Anna I was before I left to the person I blossomed into while I was gone. There were a lot of layers that needed to be peeled off and it showed. Several people close to me even noticed that I looked different. It was very difficult to readjust to family life after being immersed in an entirely different world, as well as all the changes I made within. I knew the changes I needed to make and bring home with me, but I also had to help the family I live with understand what that looked like as well. 

 Lastly, what’s next for you? You never cease to amaze us with your vision, determination, and heart for people. I know we will all look forward to seeing how your story continues to unfold.

Of course, I am focused on my kids and everything that mom life entails. My son is in third grade, my daughter is in sixth and my stepdaughter is a junior in high school. Having one kid at each campus is a lot to monitor and keep up with, but we have great kids who are all pretty independent and I am so proud of them.

 Right now, I am currently back at my micro-hospital job filling in for other staff who needed a break. I’ve completed two more courses since I’ve been home and start my final one at the end of the month, which means I will finally graduate with my MSN from Walden University. They are helping to share my story, and I hope it inspires others. My job and school are keeping me plenty occupied in the nursing world. Once I have some free time after finishing school, I plan to get back to my passion of cycling and dedicate time to that training again. I am also hoping for a position at the community hospital that was built in my hometown and pray for opportunities in the future as a family nurse practitioner close to home, once I am officially licensed. Hopefully COVID-19 will stabilize and we can all get back to life as normal, but it may be quite some time before we see that happen. This year I began to build my own business, Kardia Wellness, where I plan to provide holistic-based virtual care, as well as some in-person visits, to those who either don’t have access to or need a more optimal way to see a healthcare provider. COVID-19 has brought forth so much change in the medical world, and I’m trying to find out how to make the best of the new normal, just like everyone else.

 Also, at the start of the year, I will be back immersed in my leadership role at Celebrate Recovery at my church, and I look forward to that being a more regular part of my routine again, and I’m also hoping to lead some women’s bible studies. I look forward to finally being a provider so I can serve in medical missions, which was my original inspiration for going back to school in the first place. Whether that will be through our church’s mission groups or other groups such as Operation Smile – in honor of my son Gavin – being on the mission field is one of my biggest passions. You could say that New York was my first medical assignment, and I pray for many more opportunities like that in my life.

I am blown away by your story Anna. Thank you for sharing all of this. It is really cool to see how God is using you and I know he is going to bless you on this journey.