KPH nurse Antonia Richards-Stewart honoured by US secretary of state
Jamaica in the WorldMonday, October 18, 2021
THE Jamaican flag flew high and proud once again as the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken honoured Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) nurse sister, Antonia Richards-Stewart for outstanding work on the COVID-19 front line.
Stewart-Richards, a registered general nurse (RN) and certified nephrology nurse at the KPH, was lauded by Blinken at the recent White House Virtual COVID-19 Summit to highlight the dedication of the many health-care workers who have been working on the frontline since the start of the pandemic.
The summit was used to highlight how the US has assisted countries around the world to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, and Blinken noted that the Jamaican nurse had benefited from additional training and equipment provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
“If we work together with the unity and urgency required at this moment, we can end the pandemic. I am convinced we can do this, in no small part because of the extraordinary people around the world who are working at this every single day, caring for the sick and their families, working to beat back this deadly virus,” America's top diplomat said.
He noted that the Jamaican nurse and her colleagues at the KPH had used the training to save lives, adding: “What is critical to winning [the] fight against COVID-19 is us, the people. And ultimately, that's always what it comes down to.
“So if we take one message from the summit, that's it. It comes down to us — what we do in this critical moment in the weeks ahead, in the months ahead.”
Secretary Blinken said the US planned to continue providing training and COVID-19 equipment to health-care workers around the world, including in the Caribbean. He also announced that President Joe Biden planned to donate additional vaccines to small countries.
“We must vaccinate billions more people, and quickly, fully vaccinating at least 70 per cent of the population in every country, in every major category, by 2022,” stated the secretary of state.
USAID, for its part, described Richards-Stewart as “a Jamaican nurse who has made sacrifices to serve and care for COVID-19 patients. Antonia represents all front line workers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty as Jamaica continues in its fight against the pandemic”.
Richards-Stewart, a 33-year-old mother of two, despite already carrying a heavy load at KPH, volunteered to work in the newly created COVID-19 ward as the novel coronavirus raged last year.
While many people were forced to stay inside, she, like all other dedicated health-care and critical service workers, was called to stay out and serve those in need.
“As a nurse, you are prepared for any communicable disease that can spread. We know this and are trained for this, but the coronavirus shocked the entire hospital staff,” Richard-Stewart admitted.
She witnessed her colleagues' fear for their own health and that of their families and the difficulty getting staff to work in the isolation ward. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 115,000 health and care workers worldwide have paid the ultimate price in the service of others during the pandemic.
However, Richards-Stewart was not deterred. “If everybody is going to run away, who is going to stay and care? It could be your very own family that needs the help,” she says.
With the steady increase in the spread of infections, she decided to suit up, determined to serve despite the high risks. At the height of the crisis she sometimes worked 16-hour shifts, USAID said.
Witnessing patients take their last breaths and being the last face that they saw, with no family to bid them farewell, was not easy. Often, Antonia served as a comforting presence, as these patients were often unable to see family members. The task was not easy, but Antonia explained this was part of her duty and calling as a nurse.
USAID provided US$2 million in COVID-19 assistance to bolster Jamaica's COVID-19 emergency response, specifically to fund training and equip nurses like Richards-Stewart to care for COVID-19 patients, as well as provide personal protective equipment to help keep them safe.
“Our support is more than just funds: we are intentional in providing life-saving supplies, technical expertise, training and more to respond to the pandemic and prevent future health crises,” saidJason Fraser, country representative for USAID's Mission in Jamaica.
Up to yesterday, Jamaica had 87,232 novel coronavirus cases and 2,103 related deaths. But front-line workers like Richards-Stewart have remained undaunted as they see themselves as part of the solution.
“I had three very ill COVID-19 patients who told me they were determined to live. Together, we fought for their survival, and to see them all walk out of the hospital alive gave me great joy,” she says.
Those same patients returned to the ward and decided to give back by donating critical medical supplies to the hospital. Their generosity is part of the solution as well, said USAID.
“I've gained a wealth of knowledge from this pandemic in terms of caring for patients but what is critical to winning this fight against COVID-19 is us, the people. We need to rise up, wise up, see the situation for what it is and work hard at maintaining our health and the health of others,” Richards-Stewart appealed.
– Compiled by Kevin Wainwright and edited by Desmond Allen