By Jeanine Mezei | U.S. Army Medical Department Activity-Fort Carson Public Affairs Office
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Throughout their 56 years of marriage, Joyce and George Woffenden have endured celebrations and challenges together, but nothing prepared them for this experience.
When Joyce Woffenden, 76, tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to Evans Army Community Hospital (EACH) May 18, 2020, George Woffenden faced the difficult possibility of losing his wife and best friend.
Fortunately, after a 52-day stay at EACH, Joyce Woffenden was released with George Woffenden right by her side while staff cheered for her July 10, 2020.
“Here she is getting discharged today thanks to all the professional people—nurses, doctors and therapists,” said George Woffenden, a retired Army sergeant first class who previously served at Fort Carson. “They never gave up.”
Joyce Woffenden, who worked at Fort Carson for about 22 years, initially visited EACH for kidney stone treatment, but a positive COVID-19 test put her plans on hold and her symptoms required admission for inpatient care.
“While she was in the hospital, the doctors called me every day to give me an update,” said George Woffenden. “She had setbacks during her stay.”
Those setbacks included Joyce Woffenden being intubated and inhibiting her ability to speak.
“She was on life support and needed a ventilator to help her breathe,” said Alexz Planica, an Intensive Care Unit nurse who cared for Joyce Woffenden throughout her stay. “She would communicate on a whiteboard to staff while she was intubated.”
Joyce Woffenden would let the staff know she wanted fresh air but that wasn’t possible during most of her stay. To help cope, her room was decorated with photos of family and friends-even a photo of Joyce Woffenden on a motorcycle.
“Her family would call for updates and send cards; they were very involved,” said Planica. “Joyce didn’t watch the news, but she turned to her faith to keep her spirits up.”
This included visits with Maj. Matthew Canada, chaplain, EACH, who visited regularly for Joyce Woffenden’s spiritual care and brought her a radio so she could listen to music.
While visits from family were not possible, George Woffenden relied on daily phone call updates from physicians attending to Joyce Woffenden. Then something extraordinary happened.
The EACH telemedicine team went to visit George Woffenden and set up video teleconferencing (VTC) in their home.
“It was awesome,” said George Woffenden. “The team came to my house to set up the computer so we could talk.”
Even though Joyce Woffenden couldn’t speak much with George Woffenden, Planica said Joyce Woffenden began to turn a corner and improve when she was able to see him.
In addition to VTC being used to speak with family, the EACH staff leveraged telemedicine resources to bring in specialty doctors throughout the Military Health System.
“We used eICU (electronic Intensive Care Unit) with services from Madigan Army Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center and Naval Medical Center San Diego,” said Nate Evans, doctor, and one of Joyce Woffenden’s attending physicians and the Internal Medicine Clinic chief. “We used their critical care physicians, nurses and also some specialists. By linking up with military medical facilities across the country, we provided a higher level of care that helped ensure she could stay at Evans.”
During her stay, Joyce Woffenden was also the first patient to receive convalescent plasma at EACH.
“She got individualized care from multiple specialty doctors for a long period of time,” said Evans, who was also involved in preparing EACH for COVID-19 earlier in the year. “Our staff is more comfortable with taking more COVID-19 patients because of what they learned taking care of Joyce.”
A variety of specialty doctors provided care during her stay. As Joyce Woffenden was getting better, physical therapy specialists were there to help her stand and begin to walk while she was on a ventilator, according to Evans.
“She formed an emotional bond with the staff and they got really committed to her,” said Evans.
That bond was evident when Joyce Woffenden was preparing to leave EACH after so much time with the team members. Balloons and hand painted signs decorated the Family Care Ward to give her a proper farewell.
“I’m so proud of what we did as a team at this hospital,” said Planica. “We don’t have those acute resources a Level 1 hospital would have, but we came through when we had to. It was the little things,
like whoever got her a radio so she could listen to her music or arranging video calls.”
On July 9, 2020, the team finally got to take her on a walk outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air she was yearning for.
“I wanted everyone to know how much I appreciate everything they’ve done for her,” said George Woffenden. “I couldn’t have asked for better care. We both give all the credit to the Lord and the staff. We feel he guided them.”
The self-professed homebodies who live in the country, said they are excited to return to their haven of solitude together in Penrose.
“You’d think after 56 years, we’d be tired of one another,” said George Woffenden.