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After Watching Coronavirus Patients Die Alone, Doctor Collecting iPads, Tablets So Loved Ones Can Say Goodbye

Dr. Valerie Mayuga treats coronavirus patients in Wicker Park, Uptown and Humboldt Park, and said often there is no way for them to say goodbye to their loved ones.

Dr. Valerie Mayuga.
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STREETERVILLE — A Chicago doctor is asking for donations of i-Pads and other tablets to help isolated hospital patients connect with their loved ones, often for the last time.

Valerie Mayuga, a family practitioner who lives in Streeterville, said because of restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, it’s rare for her patients to have visitors at the hospital. Many are elderly or unable to communicate, which makes it difficult to coordinate a phone call with family.

Mayuga has been treating patients at St Mary’s and Elizabeth Medical Center in Wicker Park, Thorek Memorial Hospital in Uptown and Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park since the pandemic began.

Her goal is to collect 100 iPads, tablets or other devices that are WiFi compatible and capable of hosting a live video chat. Used devices are welcome, but she asks that the memory be cleared first, and all donations need to include a charger.

Mayuga sees on average 20 to 30 patients a day, the majority of whom have COVID-19, some she’s known since she began practicing in 2017. She said many live in nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the pandemic. Often, when they reach the hospital, they are either intubated or otherwise unable to communicate, which makes speaking over the phone impossible.

 “Before we would have patients who are dying, or who we know are terminally ill, but you’d have like a whole family of 50 people in the room,” she said.

Video streaming would allow family members to encourage their sick loved ones, or say a final goodbye.

“I feel like there’s a way to do an audio visual interaction for them to just see and say goodbye before…it would help a lot. It’s not just the patient, we also think of the family members who get left behind, and it’s hard for them too,” she said.

She got the idea after reading about a doctor in New York who asked people to donate the devices in honor of her birthday. Mayuga, who turns 38 on May 22, said she couldn’t wait until her birthday to begin asking for donations.

I’ve already had several deaths…patients that I take care of,” she said, “I’ve already had conversations with the families, and so the questions will always be, ‘can I talk to him, can I see him or her?'”

This isn’t the first time Mayuga has organized donations for others. As part of the Young Professional Streeterville Facebook group, she said she helped distribute toiletries and food to people experiencing homelessness.

“I grew up with this whole idea that if you’re given a lot, your job is to share that,” she said, “If I have a way to give back, even if it’s just my time, or posting something on social media, or you know asking friends who are also very blessed to help out, then maybe I’m doing something that can contribute to humanity.”

While her job is stressful, she said she’s encouraged by everyone in the healthcare profession that keeps showing up to work everyday throughout the crisis. Beyond donating, the best thing everyone else can do to help is to stay at home.

“It’s the doctors and the nurses, the respiratory therapists and janitorial staff, housekeeping, maintenance, the people who are in the cafeteria, all of those people, they’re the ones that keep the hospitals running,” she said.

“I think Chicagoans have been really good about staying home and doing the whole social distancing thing,” she said, “But the thing is, it’s not over yet.”

Donations can be sent to Dr. Valerie Mayuga, 222 E. Pearson St, Chicago, Ill. 60611. Please be sure the devices are working, wiped of saved files and include a charger.

As they come in, she’ll distribute them to the three hospitals she works out of; Thorek Memorial Hospital, 850 W. Irving Park Road, in Buena Park, Amita St. Mary’s and Elizabeth Medical Center, 2233 W. Division in Wicker Park, and Norwegian American Hospital, 1044 N. Francisco Ave. in Humboldt Park.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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