As the mother of a son diagnosed with Duchene's Muscular Dystrophy at age 3, Deirdre Gusek of Winder always knew every moment with her son was precious. When he developed severe breathing problems in spring 2020 at age 22, she feared he was nearing the end of life.
Sadly, she was right.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic had just erupted across the nation. To protect patients and staff against the new virus, hospitals were having to shut down visitation. That meant Gusek could not be with her son, Nixon, as doctors and nurses at St. Mary's worked to provide the care he needed. As a registered nurse herself — she worked at Children's Hospital in Atlanta at the time — she understood the need. But as a mother, it was difficult.
That's why she was so grateful for David Gladys, a nurse on St. Mary's Neuroscience Critical Care Unit, for going above and beyond to build a connection with Nixon.
"David stepped in and provided Nixon with excellent care," Gusek said. "He communicated with me, advocated for Nixon, and gained Nixon's trust — which, after being in so many hospitals for so many years, was something that was very hard to do."
A HEARTFELT HONOR
Nixon himself wrote this about Gladys: "David was such a good friend to me, which is rare with nurses I meet. He didn't treat me like a burden but made me feel like he actually enjoyed taking care of me."
Deirdre included Nixon's words when she nominated David for St. Mary's DAISY Award, which is presented to eight nurses a year. Her nomination stood out, hospital leaders said, and the St. Mary’s nursing leadership team recently presented the DAISY Award to Gladys. Deirdre was able to be there for part of the ceremony.
"I am a seasoned registered nurse myself,” she said. “I recognize when a nurse has that special quality that can't be taught but is ingrained within them. David has that very rare calming nature that got Nixon through a truly challenging time and gave my mama heart total peace."
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
With COVID-19 raging at the time of Nixon's admission, all visitation at St. Mary's was shut down to protect patients and staff against the then-untreatable virus. Meanwhile, Nixon was trying to cope with the severity of his own illness – his Duchene's had progressed to the point that he had to have a breathing tube inserted. He felt very alone.
As he went through his many tests and treatments, the separation from Deirdre weighed on him. Gladys not only provided nursing care; he listened, making himself a link between mother and son. As Nixon warmed up to him, he confided that he felt he could cope with being in the hospital if he could just get his Playstation.
Understand, with the breathing tube in place, Nixon struggled to talk. But with his Playstation, he could communicate with his mom through text messages.
Gladys made it happen.
"That really put my mind at ease, and it put Nixon at ease, too," Deirdre said. "I just can't say enough."
A LIGHT IN DARK TIMES
Toward the end of Nixon's two-week stay, the St. Mary's nursing leadership agreed that Nixon and Deirdre needed a compassionate exemption from the visitation policy. Deirdre credits Gladys with advocating for their need to be together.
"I was there to witness what a truly amazing nurse he is," she said in Gladys’ DAISY Award nomination. "He was patient and kind. He encouraged Nixon through learning his new trach tube and was so attentive of Nixon's needs. David also listened to my concerns and advocated with us to make sure our concerns and wishes were heard. All Nixon's nurses at St. Mary's were excellent, but David was extraordinary."
The memory of that compassion stayed with Deirdre and Nixon after his discharge. It provided comfort as his condition continued to worsen. There is no cure for Duchene's, and nearly everyone diagnosed with it dies in their 20s. Nixon fought to live life to the fullest. His fight ended on July 20, 2020.
‘I JUST WANT TO DO THE BEST I CAN’
In accepting the award, Gladys echoed what many DAISY Award recipients say. They are all smiles, often in tears, but they are often also a little confused. It’s common to hear them say, “I’m honored, but why me?”
“I just did what I always do,” Gladys said. “I just want to do the best I can to help my patients recover and have a good outcome.”
“David is a stellar member of our Neuro Critical Care team,” said Barbara Kelly, St. Mary’s director of critical care services. “He effortlessly delivers compassionate, quality care to each and every one of his patients. David not only impacts his patients but, as a charge nurse and preceptor for the unit, he instills this same attitude and expectation unto others. We are delighted to celebrate this recognition with David. Although not surprising as this is his everyday attitude, it is very much appreciated.”
Gladys began his career at St. Mary’s as a new graduate nurse on the neuroscience floor six years ago and has been a member of the critical care team for the last three and a half years. Glady lives in Athens-Clarke County as a newlywed with his wife, Emily, who is also a member of the St. Mary's family.
JOINING THE TEAM
Deirdre Gusek is proud to talk about her son and his life. He is, and always will be, a huge part of who she is. Her experience with his hospitalization at St. Mary's — and her previous work with Titus at another hospital — brought her back to St. Mary's not long ago. Not as the mother of a patient, but as a nurse on St. Mary's intermediate care unit.
"I love being here, the Mission, the Core Values, the ability to pray," she said. "The support I have received is phenomenal. I will always remember what St. Mary's and David did for Nixon and me."