Relief and resolve can come in different forms as so many have struggled to find normalcy during challenging times brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Lana Melendres-Groves finds solace in soccer. That has been the case so many times in her life, including when she was a standout player for University of New Mexico. Now, soccer comes from a different angle during her career as the medical director of the pulmonary hypertension program at UNM Hospital.
She is among many on a hospital team working together against COVID-19, the daily tragedies that it brings, yet finding hope in the recoveries.
Soccer, yes, known as the beautiful game, remains present, thankfully.
“It’s so awesome that I get to coach,” said Melendres-Groves, who helps her husband, Josh Groves, with the New Mexico Soccer Academy. “For me the coaching aspect is what keeps me sane, because working in a hospital, working where you see death and dying, you see life and birth, but all of it together, and then when you go out with kids, they’re why you do it. You want to make the world better. Because these kids with their innocence and their passion and their laughter, that’s what reminds me, yep, get up and do it again because these guys need you to.”
Much of Melendres-Groves’ strength and values have been drawn from soccer, the lessons learned from games and years of training that was at its highest level at UNM.
For Olivia Ferrier and Delilah Davila, both intensive care unit nurses at UNMH, a background in UNM athletics also prepared them for their careers. Ferrier also played soccer at UNM, and Davila was a cheerleader for the Lobos.
Home is important for all three, and home is UNMH, serving the people in the community.
And it has intensified in the past three months. As of Friday, there have been 387 deaths due to the coronavirus in New Mexico and 8,672 who have tested positive.
Melendres-Groves, a captain for the Lobos, played as a midfielder 1996-2000 and is still among the top 10 in six categories in the program’s record book. The Valley High School alumnus was a 5-foot-1 dynamo in her playing days.
She saw the importance of teamwork back then and contributed off the pitch as well. She went to UNM on a Regents Scholarship, a full academic ride.
“I chose to defer the athletic scholarship because of my Regents Scholarship,” Melendres-Groves said in a recent phone interview. “I requested that they use any of those funds for teammates of mine who needed it from an athletic standpoint.”
At UNM, Melendres-Groves developed routines while juggling academics and athletics. Procrastination was not an option.
“That has helped me through to today,” said Melendres-Groves, who is also an associate professor in the department of internal medicine at UNM. “I have four kids (Charlie, 12; Oliver, 10; Oscar, 7; Scarlett, 6). I work full time at UNM. I do consulting work. My husband runs a soccer academy in town that I do my best to try and coach most nights of the week and on the weekends. Playing soccer at UNM just prepares you for life, which is always coming at ya.”
Melendres-Groves sensed anxiety and fear as the coronavirus made its way to the United States and crept into the central portion of the U.S. a little more than three months ago. As that happened, UNMH and state leaders worked together so they would be ready, Melendres-Groves said.
“We prepared for really dire months to come, and what has happened is because of that preparation,” she said. “I think we’ve been ready and have been able to manage the patients in need, specifically being able to help with our colleagues that are in the Navajo Nation area and with that patient population and to provide support. It’s been a tremendous effort across the board within all of health systems in the state.”
Melendres-Groves is in a leadership role, yet she says, “I also follow leaders who I know are taking us down the right path.
“There has to be hope,” Melendres-Groves said. “That’s what allows us to get up each day, and to move forward is that the hope for tomorrow will be better than today and months from now. We have tremendous people around the world, but I can’t say enough about our researchers from the national labs here in New Mexico, about our global policy workers and what they have done to move things along specifically for New Mexico. Often we get the afterthoughts in terms of our country as a whole.”
In the ICU
Olivia Ferrier and Delilah Davila are both thankful they respectively live alone. They have seen other ICU nurses who have families and must find ways to self-isolate, including renting a mobile home.
“Our world has completely changed,” Ferrier said. “However, it has become second nature to us. We are now a completely positive coronavirus unit, so we are no longer accepting the ICU patients we were accepting at this time last year.”
Second nature to Ferrier and Davila includes 12-hour shifts at least three days a week. They wear an N95 mask for their entire shift.
They solely take care of COVID-19-positive patients daily.
In late May, Ferrier said she saw no signs of the care and work needed slowing down.
Davila describes the experience as “overwhelming.”
“It’s been incredibly sad for sure to see these sick patients who take weeks to get better if they do at all,” said Davila, 26, an Albuquerque High graduate who finished cheering at UNM in 2015 and completed the nursing program in 2017. “It’s been really tough. But I feel grateful to be able to contribute in whatever small way that I can.”
Ferrier, 26, a Volcano Vista alumna who played soccer for the Lobos from 2012-2016, is dealing with great emotions in her own way.
“I don’t think I’ve acknowledged the mental toll that this has taken on me, especially with the combination of working on the night shift,” Ferrier said “The mental impact that COVID has had on me, I think it will start to come to light later because I haven’t really addressed it, which I don’t know if that is good or bad. I’ve just been in work mode for the last few months. On my off days, I just try to do the things I love when before we were quarantined. I try to exercise, which is even harder without a gym. I try to get outside. I don’t underestimate the mental toll that it has taken on me and every nurse in the country. It’s a big one. But I will address it later. That’s my plan.”
Ferrier and Davila both have a sense of pride while working at UNMH because it is home. They grew up in Albuquerque. They had options to leave, but they chose to stay.
“I feel a lot of pride working with the people of Albuquerque and New Mexico,” Ferrier said. “I felt like the opportunity of working at UNM, the patients we see and the technology we deal with, we deal with some of the sickest people in the country, I wanted to stay here. I thought it was the best choice for my career. I’m proud to still be in Albuquerque and working at UNM.”
Said Davila: “My whole family is here. I feel like I’m a family-oriented person. Leaving them would have been very hard for me. I’m grateful that I got to cheer at UNM. My family kept me here.”