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Published on August 26, 2020

Unsung Heroes on the COVID-19 Front Lines


As we watch people across America struggle with the tragic effects of COVID-19, the bravery of countless doctors, nurses, researchers and other people working on the front lines of this battle have offered us hope and inspiration as they work tirelessly and selflessly to save lives. Among these unsung heroes are many Eastern alumni, who, at great personal risk, are working to protect their communities.

Yuberki Delgadillo 

Yuberki Delgadillo’18 of Quaker Hill serves as a registered nurse in a COVID-19 renal respiratory unit at Lawrence and Memorial (L&M) Hospital in New London. After graduating from Eastern, she took six months off before enrolling in the University of Connecticut’s accelerated nursing program, graduating in December 2019. A month later, she started working at the hospital.

Delgadillo said COVID-19 has presented monumental challenges she would never have imagined. “A lot of the things I learned in nursing school are out the window. However, I am pleased to be able to put a face to this deadly disease. My COVID patients are real human beings. The most heart-warming aspect is making sure my patients know they were not alone, isolated in their rooms.”

Delgadillo said Eastern’s liberal arts education was the best preparation for her career in nursing. “Nursing is all about blending art and science, and at Eastern I experienced wide-ranging groups of people. In nursing, I work with people of all ages and walks of life. Eastern has helped me better connect and interact with my patients in a more caring, sensitive and meaningful way.”

Danielle Bourne 

Danielle Bourne ’13 works at Yale-New Haven Hospital as a registered nurse. Until recently, her floor was a COVID-positive floor, which means that every one of her patients had tested positive for COVID-19 and had a serious enough case to be hospitalized. She works twelveand-a-half-hour shifts, travelling to New Haven from her residence in Groton. When arriving home, she says it’s imperative to shower before doing anything, to eliminate any possibility of bringing the virus home with her.

Until recently, full eye shields and N-95 masks had been a requirement of her job; since her floor shifted to a non-COVID floor, a surgical mask is still required on all hospital premises. Despite all this, Bourne sets out to help her patients every day. Although the job is stressful, her passion for her profession has not wavered, even in the pandemic. She emphasizes that “I love being a nurse and I still love helping people and want to help people. Even if it’s hard, it’s what I want to do with my life.”

A softball and volleyball athlete at Eastern, Bourne still enjoys playing league beach volleyball with her fiancé Brett Egri, who she married on  July 26. In their free time, they also enjoy backpacking and hiking.

Rukevwe Ehwarieme

Dr. Rukevwe Ehwarieme ’08 works with a team of specialists as a locum hospitalist, traveling across the country — to Texas, New Hampshire and here in Connecticut — to serve areas in need of a  hospitalist due to the pandemic. Ehwarieme and his fiancé postponed their wedding and honeymoon due to  COVID-19! Both are serving as locums at hospitals across the nation. Prior to traveling to areas of need, Ehwarieme served in a similar capacity at W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. He is currently in Fellowship Training in Infectious Disease at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he is furthering his education and research in infectious diseases.

“This particular coronavirus is new. None of us knows it all, so we have to collaborate with a wide range of specialists to ensure that protocols are in place to properly treat patients fighting for their lives. When you are trying to save someone’s life, teamwork takes on new meaning. It is wonderful and joyous to see someone recover from this deadly virus.”

Ehwarieme earned his B.S. in Biology at Eastern, an MBA in Health Care and Administration from Davenport  University in Michigan, and his medical degree from the Saint James School of Medicine in Anguilla. He completed his residency at Michigan State University.

Molly Scherban

Molly Scherban ’17 of Wethersfield majored in Health Sciences at Eastern and serves as a registered nurse for Hartford Healthcare. After graduating from Eastern, she worked part time as a personal care assistant in home care for two years while going to nursing school. Scherban’s life took on new meaning with the arrival of COVID-19. Her floor at Hartford Healthcare, usually a cardiac-telemetry floor, now takes only patients infected with COVID-19. “It has not been easy to face this challenge. COVID-19 hit us all as soon as I started working as a new nurse, so it was even more significant and required a much faster learning curve than it would have been if I were starting out under normal circumstances.”

Scherban said that though nursing is one of the most dangerous jobs one can have these days, she still loves what she does. “The most gratifying aspect of being a first responder during the COVID-19 pandemic has been being able to see how this virus affects people firsthand and doing my best to provide the care to help them combat it. Not all patients recover. But then there are those who survive and knowing that I had a part in that is rewarding.”

Ivan Walrath

Ivan Walrath ’03 of Mystic earned his master’s degree in Organizational Management (MSOM) from Eastern. He serves as the head of audit and inspection quality at Pfizer. “COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for all of us. The strongest motivation for me and my colleagues is making a difference in people’s lives. There will be no better example of that than developing a vaccine and  treatments for COVID-19.”

For the past 25 years Walrath has worked at Pfizer on research and development projects related to clinical trials of experimental medicines. “Eastern’s MSOM program prepared me well for managing in a large organization. The combination of business skills and psychology and critical thinking was a perfect blend of education. To this day, I still refer to some of my coursework and texts for myself as well as in the coaching I do as a leader.”

Walrath said he loves being involved with research that may help the entire world. “When I personally look around and see the impact of the pandemic on my family, children, community, colleagues, neighbors who are healthcare professionals and first responders, I see no better contribution I can make than work as hard as I possibly can alongside my colleagues to deliver these breakthroughs as fast as possible.”

Erin Sheehan

A Health Sciences major with an Exercise Science minor, Erin Sheehan ’19, also stayed busy on campus as a field hockey and lacrosse athlete. Her academic focus and self-discipline as a student-athlete helped prepare her for life as a first-year nursing student at New York’s College of Staten Island during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 12 — roughly six weeks into the second semester of her two-year nursing program — the college announced it was moving to online learning for the balance of the semester. Sheehan packed her bags that night and boarded the train the next day back to her home in North Branford.

Sheehan completed the spring semester online, logging onto Blackboard each day to take three-hour lectures, clinical training and a three-credit pharmacology class. Videos and demonstrations through video chat replaced hands-on learning, which made it “a difficult task. It’s a lot of self-teaching, which isn’t ideal,” she says.

Raised in a nursing family that included a grandmother, two aunts and two cousins, Sheehan was convinced of her destiny after taking a human anatomy class as an elective in high school. “This whole pandemic draws me even more into the nursing field and the medical field itself,” she says. “I wish that I had my license already and I was helping patients.”

Stephanie Durbin

Stephanie Durbin ’10 earned her Bachelor of Science degree at Eastern in Biopsychology, an individualized major she created. This year would have been her 10th reunion, and she was planning to return to campus for Reunion Weekend this past May. “The pandemic changed all that.”

Durbin is in Macon, GA, working as a critical care registered nurse for one of Georgia’s only Level 1 hospitals, serving 55 of Georgia’s 159 counties. “To say we’ve been busy is putting it mildly,” she says. “Early on in the pandemic, the hospital asked who would be willing to be on call for the COVID units in the event of a surge in patients. The number of intensive care unit nurses who stepped up was amazing.

“I am certified for critical care as well as neurology and trauma. My job is to work in whatever unit has the greatest need. When I’ve been asked to go to the COVID units, I go. More often than not, I am asked to go to critical care units that have found themselves with an unexpected surge of high-acuity patients. Strokes still happen. Sepsis still happens. Trauma still happens. In this time, a lot of us are cross-training for various specialties to make sure patients have an adequate number of staff to take care of them.”

Students Deployed for Local Relief

service members
Jacob Schumacher (left) and Richard Hoyt (right)

Two current Eastern Connecticut State University students are making special contributions to Connecticut’s fight against COVID-19 as members of the Armed Forces. Freshman Jacob Schumacher was deployed this spring in the Army Reserve to maintain and repair military vehicles and transporting medical supplies.

“My initial thought to being called up was, ‘Man, college is about to be a whole lot harder,’” said the Business Administration major. “When you’re deployed, you have to focus on the mission at hand over anything else, and that mission may take up most if not all of your day.”

After completing his Eastern degree, Schumacher aspires to become a member of the Army Special Forces.

Sophomore Richard Hoyt served in the Army National Guard as a transportation coordinator at a commodities warehouse in New Britain, where he helped to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical facilities and first responders across the state. Corporate Hoyt, who has been deployed overseas in countries such as Poland, noted the distinction with his current deployment: “You’re helping people in your own community, (people and places) you’ve known your whole life.”

Hoyt works full time, in addition to being a full-time computer science major. “It’s hard work, the hours are long, busy and crazy, but you’re helping your community directly,” he said. When his workday ends, Hoyt’s school day begins. He gets home between 5 and 6 p.m., walks his dog, has an evening coffee, then focuses on schoolwork. “I’m always in bed before midnight.”

Hoyt’s aspirations mix computer science with transportation as he considers a career in civil engineering or cybersecurity.

Written by Dwight Bachman, Bob Molta, Ed Osborn, Dean Roussel