Nurse Practitioner Who Wore Full Protective Gear Contracted Coronavirus. She Promised Her Son She'd Stay Alive

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Shelley Urquhart and her son Connor. (Courtesy)
Shelley Urquhart and her son Connor. (Courtesy)

After nine days of anxiously waiting, pulmonary and critical-care nurse practitioner Shelley Urquhart’s COVID-19 test came back positive.

Dealing with the sickness wasn’t the worst part of her diagnosis, she says. It was having to reveal the news to her 10-year-old son Connor from behind a closed door, as she was quarantining herself for two weeks.

“He cried and he made me promise him that I wouldn't die,” she says. “And having to try to comfort a child from behind closed doors is just immensely difficult — more difficult than being sick. It's just not being able to be there when your child needs you.”

Urquhart is now on the mend and back at work. She says after two weeks of fighting the virus in isolation, she’s feeling “much better.”

Urquhart — an employee at Norton Audubon Hospital, part of one of the largest health care systems in Louisville — is on the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus. Despite wearing all of the recommended personal protective equipment while treating a critically ill patient — including an N-95 mask, eye protection, gown and gloves — she still contracted the contagious virus.

Shelley Urquhart and her son Connor. (Courtesy)
Shelley Urquhart and her son Connor. (Courtesy)

“The unfortunate answer there is it's probably not enough protection,” she says.

She says she treated the patient on a Friday afternoon and on Monday, she came down with a fever and cough.

She says others who treated the same patient also came down with symptoms. Dozens of other employees in the Norton Healthcare system have also tested positive for coronavirus after treating some of the same sick patients, she says.

In addition to the fever and cough, Urquhart lost both taste and smell. She says she still hasn’t fully regained those senses back.

She just hit her two-week mark and says she will not be retested for coronavirus.

“We are doing a process at my hospital where you're off for two weeks from the time that you were tested,” she says, “and then once you were fever-free and symptom-free for 72 hours, then you can report back to work.”

Implementing aggressive measures at the start of the pandemic was key, she says, and applauds Kentucky for executing “very, very strict stay-at-home measures” after the first case in the state appeared.

“State and local governments, I think, have been really instrumental in helping to have consistent messaging,” she says. “And the federal government, we haven't seen very consistent messaging from them. I think there's a lot of room for improvement from that standpoint.”

At this point, Urquhart says she’s confident she will not be spreading the coronavirus to others — which is important for her community, future patients, her son and her aunt, who also lives with her. She says her aunt has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and is immunocompromised, putting her at greater risk if she contracted the virus.

“It's been really stressful just knowing that I went to work, did everything I was supposed to do and still brought this home to my household,” she says.

Ciku Theuri produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O'DowdSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on April 2, 2020.


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Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.


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