Galilee member Mary Lacy Grecco is a healthcare hero who studies nursing at UVA, while working part-time at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. It’s not surprising that Mary Lacy was familiar with pandemics before the COVID-19 crisis hit.
But it wasn’t her medical classes or her experience at NIH that got her thinking about epidemic disease. It was the commute!
“Driving back and forth to Charlottesville, I listened to a podcast called “This Podcast Will Kill You,” says Mary Lacy. “The first episode discusses our country’s last pandemic —The Great Influenza of 1918, plus lots of other ‘cool diseases.’
“That podcast, along with the knowledge I have from nursing, has helped me navigate COVID-19, because I was aware that another pandemic was possible. Experts have long been concerned about the possibility of an emergent respiratory illness that is highly contagious.”
Mary Lacy wearing PPE designed for EBOLA, which is transmitted through close physical contact, especially with fluids.
Of her work at NIH, Mary Lacy explains, “I’m there mostly on weekends, on the Hematology/Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant units. I work with the immune system all the time and have a healthy respect for anything that puts the immune system to work.”
“Patients enroll with protocols to be seen at NIH and we don’t have an ER, so anyone coming in is screened before arrival to protect our other patients, staff, and critical care teams. We do have COVID positive patients who we send to a special unit studying COVID. This helps with the science as well their care, and keeps exposure to a minimum. I have taken care of patients recovering from COVID in our unit who have been very sick. My stem cell transplant patients have weakened immune systems and are at very high risk from COVID.”
“The experts working here have opened research studies to monitor COVID patients and provide care as well as look into medications that could treat COVID, improve testing, and understand antibodies. There is so much we don’t know about COVID that it is important to study the natural course of the illness to have a better understanding about things on a molecular level and how COVID impacts body systems.”
“In addition to my work at NIH, my last clinical rotation at UVA was with telehealth, monitoring patients with symptoms concerning for COVID who were not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital. All of these patients were tested and some were positive, some negative, but we monitored their signs and symptoms to make sure they were safe and did not require escalated care.”
The NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
“I think much surrounding COVID is being sensationalized because that sells. Obviously COVID is sensational, but there is a lot that we don’t know and might not know for years,” says Mary Lacy. “Basic principles are important, regardless of what disease is present. Specific to a primarily respiratory illness like COVID, what I advise my friends about is:
- Hand washing
Studies show that water temperature does not matter as much as length of time for hand washing, as well as friction and how good you are at scrubbing. Skin is the first defense in your immune system! Your hands, especially your palms, come in contact with the most surfaces and germs.
- Wearing a mask
The mask is super inconvenient, I get it. I’m in a surgical mask for 12+ hours a shift, causing me to have headaches, mostly because I end up dehydrated. I also have a “mask line” of acne that improves only in time for my next shift, and more mask-wearing. That said, mask-wearing is one of the most important things we can do as an act of kindness and service to one another.
- Social distancing
Social distancing and mask-wearing is all they had to fight the 1918 pandemic. They lost a lot of people during that. Now, we have antibiotics and hospitals that can intubate people—yet people are still dying. That puts this illness in perspective and humbles me.
Social distancing is important. I don’t take the thought of being a silent carrier lightly with an illness that can be so devastating. I don’t think we fully understand the impact of what this virus can do long-term, even in mild cases.”
The Grecco family at Universal in Orlando. We all want to get back to normal times soon.
We’ve all been stressed by the events of the last several months. Has COVID caused Mary Lacy to question her faith?
“I can’t say that I have questioned God during this process, but I think it has called me to question humanity! However, God has called me to care for and love others no matter what, so I continue to trust Him that loving is the right thing to do.”
We call Mary Lacy and essential workers like her heroes. But who does she think is a hero?
“Educators have always been my heroes and continue to be as I watch distance learning take place. I also appreciate the creators right now, as I recharge with music, humor, good stories, and art.”
“Every day, my patients inspire me to be a better nurse and a better person. I am fortunate to be able to go home at night and be with my family, making plans to pursue passions and dreams. That isn’t the case for a fair number of my patients and they remind me to be grateful for my health and all I am able to do.”
One of Mary Lacy’s plans is to complete her program at UVA in 2021. She says, “I’m hoping I can walk the lawn at UVA for graduation next year with my doctorate and, depending on the state of health and the world at that time, possibly travel abroad before I start a job as a Nurse Practitioner.”
Proverbs 17:22 tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” We give thanks that since 1993, when her mother brought Mary Lacy to Galilee for the first time, our church has been receiving regular doses of just that medicine through the cheerful heart and big smile of Mary Lacy Grecco.