Pastoral Care

​Saving Lives on the Front Lines of COVID-19

Sister Vivien Echekwubelu, SNDdeN

By Sister Vivien Echekwubelu, SNDdeN
Charge Nurse at St. Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, MD

My story began in Nigeria where I was born and raised. I joined our religious community of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in the United States, in August 2007. I have been in the nursing profession for twenty-eight years. I joined this noble profession as a midwife in Nigeria but gained extensive nursing experience by working in various specialties in different teaching hospitals in Nigeria and across the United States. Currently, I am a Charge Registered Nurse for the Stroke/Neuro Critical Care Unit of St. Agnes Hospital (Ascension Health) in Baltimore, MD. I take pride in this ministry of healing the sick and creating a positive impact on people’s lives. I offer counselling, aimed at empowering individuals and promoting total wellbeing.

Regardless of my years of experience in healthcare, working in the front-lines and giving direct care to individuals affected with COVID-19 can be physically, mentally and psychologically challenging. Donning personal protective equipment (PPE) and especially wearing N-95 masks, over long hours, can be physically exhausting. However, putting smiles on the faces of patients and families impacted by this pandemic is the most rewarding and honorable service which I can render at this time.

Experience in Nigeria

My passion in providing care for the sick emanated from my childhood experience.  As a young child in Nigeria, I was a member of a children’s ministry. Basically, this ministry is poised at leading young children to God and mentoring them on how to bear one another’s burdens. As a member of this group, I ministered to the sick by laying hands and praying for them. This zeal as a young, innocent girl became a driving factor for my nursing career as well as for my calling to religious life as a SNDdeN. I enjoy what I do, with great joy and happiness. I realize what a great privilege it is to become who God has called me to be.

My experience as a Nurse Midwife in Nigeria was certainly remarkable. I recall doing nursing during  the HIV pandemic in the 1980’s, when I assisted women in labor with limited pain management, substandard medical equipment, and without any PPE. Yet all the mothers and their newborns remained healthy somehow!

Sr. Vivien and her co-workers wear the protective equipment all day.

COVID-19 Unit in St. Agnes Hospital

St. Agnes Hospital is a faith-based organization, rooted in Catholic values and vision. For 12  years, I have enjoyed working in this hospital and health care facility. In this pandemic crisis,  my medical unit was converted to a COVID-19 Unit. As a Sister in this nursing ministry, I consider my major service to provide special critical care to individuals who are seriously ill  from the complications of this virus. I experience my service in nursing, especially now, as a time  of reflection on our SNDdeN Mission, which inspires all our Sisters to be: “Women with hearts as  wide as the world, who make known God’s goodness and love to all.” I know that caring for patients facing the life threatening conditions from COVID-19 is a vital way  of promoting our love of God and fulfilling this congregational mission to the sick and the dying.

Besides nursing care to patients afflicted with COVID-19, I also devote some time in my full-time  schedule to offer meditation and spiritual uplifting to patients who are so anxious about the  disease or to those battling the loss of loved ones from this deadly disease. I am privileged to  participate with those committed to alleviating human pain and suffering by offering holistic care  through medicine and spiritual guidance. Such care strengthens the dignity and worth of each  person.

I feel grateful and cherish the deep love and unflinching support of my family, friends and the Sisters in my religious community. They have helped me to give hope to the sick and the dying during these critical times, and to be faithful to our Mission in making known the goodness of God to all. I offer thanksgiving to God for his goodness and mercies, in enabling me to serve with others on the front lines of the pandemic.