HOMETOWN HERO: Nurse brightens day of COVID-19 patient with Down syndrome

Beccah Hendrickson Image
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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A 46-year-old man with Down syndrome was hospitalized in South Jersey after contracting COVID-19, but it was his special bond with his nurse that helped him get through the tough time.

MAYS LANDING, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A nurse in South Jersey went above and beyond for a COVID-19 patient with Down syndrome. She says she was just doing her job.

To understand how one 12-hour shift could change the lives of both a nurse and her patient, you have to understand Joey Ortiz, who, in the height of quarantine, came down with COVID-19.

"When I came that same day, I noticed that Joey was having a hard time breathing and he was whistling like his lungs were full of fluid," said his sister, Norma.

The 46-year-old has Down syndrome and was immediately rushed to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. His family couldn't come in with him and Joey isn't used to being alone. Then he met his nurse, Samantha O'Brien.

"He just kind of seemed down so I made it my mission that day to make him happy," said O'Brien.

She started with trying to make him laugh and then had the idea to draw a picture on his window.

"He was tickled. He loved it, he loved it," said Norma Ortiz.

"The next day I came in, all of the windows were drawn on cause I guess it just caught with my unit," said O'Brien.

The day Samantha met Joey, she had a little extra empathy for what he was going through. It was her first day back after her own quarantine, after beating COVID-19.

"I could understand completely because it was terrible," she said.

Three weeks later, after a successful plasma transfer, Joey recovered, but his sister says he didn't want to leave.

"I would say, 'Joey you alright?' He said, 'Yes.' Then I would ask him, 'Do you want to come home? And he said, 'No he wants to stay there.' He was getting all the attention that he wanted, all the love," said Ortiz.

"It's something that nurses do for everybody on a daily basis, so it's kind of a snapshot of what we do every day," said O'Brien.