Coronavirus

Former Loyola Athletes Take on the Coronavirus Front Lines

Courtesy of Kevin EmmerichKevin Emmerich (middle) and two of his coworkers dress in personal protective equipment in order to work.

Now that they’ve traded in their Loyola jerseys for masks and gloves, some former Rambler athletes are working on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kristen Haggenjos, a 2013 women’s volleyball alumna, and Kevin Emmerich, a 2009 men’s golf alumnus, are just two of many alumni who have gone from battling for wins in the NCAA to battling coronavirus in Midwestern hospitals.

While at Loyola, Emmerich qualified for the Illinois Open Championship during his first year on the golf team. Both he and Haggenjos were also named to the Horizon League’s Honor Roll for multiple semesters.

Haggenjos, 28, is an emergency room nurse at Northwestern Medicine’s Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois. DuPage County in northeastern Illinois has the third highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state — with 8,951 cases and 469 deaths — but is far behind Cook County’s 89,000+ cases as of June 29. 

Courtesy of Kristen Haggenjos Kristen Haggenjos poses in her work uniform. Haggenjos graduated from Loyola in 2013.

Although she’s stationed in the suburbs — which is moving further along in Illinois’s reopening plan — Haggenjos said hospital staff are preparing for an increase in cases now that there are more large gatherings around the country, with extra staff on hand if and when an increase happens.  

Her position at the hospital requires her to help decide where patients go and what type of treatment they receive, she said. This could include placing them in any of the hospital’s five rooms for serious COVID-19 cases requiring intubation.

“It does kind of look like a little bit of a war zone in there,” she said. “They sort of look like tents that we’ve constructed in order to accommodate that.”

A graduate of the nursing program, Haggenjos said playing volleyball for Loyola helped her learn how to manage her time and work on a structured schedule. She also said Loyola’s nursing program and academics gave her a well-rounded background for her work today.

Courtesy of Kristen Haggenjos Kristen Haggenjos poses for a postgame picture with her parents.

The West Dundee, Illinois native said her hospital has had an ample amount of personal protective equipment (PPE); however, two of her coworkers contracted COVID-19 and are at home recovering. She said they are always at risk, but she has felt safe going to work at their hospital.

Emmerich, 33, works as an emergency room doctor at Methodist Northlake Hospital in Gary, Indiana. He said playing golf — a slow sport — helped him be more patient and grow accustomed to handling highs and lows. He said this translated to his medical profession because he deals with a wide range of situations and emotional reactions. 

Lake County, Indiana has had 4,741 confirmed coronavirus cases and 239 deaths, the second highest rate in the state. Emmerich said it’s been a “high-stress” time for everyone in the emergency room from doctors to nurses to patients. 

When it comes to protecting himself from the virus at work, the Cary, Illinois native said one of the constant challenges workers in the emergency room face is having enough PPE. Across the country, doctors and nurses have been reporting the same issue, some describing the lack of necessary equipment as “out of control.”

Courtesy of Kevin Emmerich Kevin Emmerich (middle) and some coworkers lounge in an office.

“I’ve been reusing the same N-95 mask for at least a week or two at a time,” he said. “We keep it in a brown paper bag to let it air-dry between shifts. If we weren’t in a pandemic, it would be single-use only.”

However, he said they’ve been receiving donations of supplies from businesses in their area, which has helped.

At Haggenjos’s hospital, she said although they haven’t received pay cuts, other benefits such as vacation days and 401k’s have been affected by a loss of hospital revenue. She said non-urgent procedures were mostly cancelled at the start of the pandemic, but are now beginning to be rescheduled. According to NPR, health care spending nationwide fell 18% in the first three months of the year.

Haggenjos said she understands this is a difficult time for everyone and it can be uncomfortable to not be in a normal routine. However, she said this is a temporary situation and hopes people will learn from this experience. 

“I just hope that in the future that we are better prepared for something like this,” she said. “There’s so much political commentary that can surround a huge issue like this, but the main thing that I hope people will take from it is that we need to invest in science, invest in research and the people that are trying to keep this world safe.”

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