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For the past four years, Chris Webber has used his nursing knowledge and skills to help cardiac patients at Oklahoma Heart Institute in Tulsa. But with the arrival of COVID-19, many medical procedures were put on hold, including his work as an advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN, specializing in cardiac electrophysiology.
Rather than wait out the pandemic in Oklahoma, he decided to take his skills where they were desperately needed: to a Chicago-area ICU for critically ill patients with COVID-19.
Chris, who graduated in 2015 from the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Program at the OU Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing, “has a servant’s heart – it’s part of who he is,” noted OU Nursing Assistant Professor Diana Webber.
And Dr. Webber would know – she’s Chris’ mother.
While Dr. Webber never taught her son at OU, she wasn’t surprised by his decision to head nearly 700 miles north to the front lines of the disease.
“As a nurse, I admire his courage to jump back into bedside nursing,” Dr. Webber said. “Chris is always going to look for a way to serve where there’s a need. That’s just his identity.”
Chris is now about halfway through his six-week stay in Chicago, which he said has about 10 times the number of cases than the entire state of Oklahoma. The experience, he said, has been unlike anything he’s ever encountered.
On his first day, one of his patients took a sudden turn for the worse, requiring an immediate reintubation and manual resuscitation.
Although the work has been overwhelming, there have been good moments that keep him going. One of his patients was a man only two years older than Chris.
“I had taken care of him for two days in a row, and as I was in his room, he was watching the news – the governor of Illinois was going through all the COVID statistics: how many people have it, how many have recovered, and finally, how many people have died.
“I looked at the patient and said, ‘Hey – that’s not you. This isn’t going to get you. Not today.’ And it was neat – even though he was on a ventilator and he couldn’t talk, his face lit up, and you could see that he had hope.”
The patient’s condition continued to improve, and late last week, he was discharged from the hospital.
Chris said it’s these kinds of moments that help him and the rest of the nursing staff stay optimistic.
“To me, nursing is the most challenging yet rewarding career available, and to maximize the rewarding side of it, you have to choose to see the best in every situation,” he said.
Dr. Webber, now in her 44th year as a nurse, agreed. As an assistant professor with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree and a family nurse practitioner, she teaches graduate students in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, she reminds her students to maintain that perspective.
This year, about 350 students will graduate with OU Nursing degrees. As the university prepares to congratulate these new medical professionals, OU College of Nursing Dean Julie Hoff also highlighted the fact that today marks the start of National Nurses Week, which is recognized annually May 6-12.
"For over 100 years, the OU College of Nursing has been committed to the professional formation of nurses to compassionately care for others while pursuing excellence," Dean Hoff said. "As we begin National Nurses Week, the commitment of Chris Webber and Dr. Diana Webber to change lives highlights what it means to be an OU nurse. OU nurses are on the front lines across Oklahoma and beyond working to transform health care through research, education and practice."
It’s this call to change lives that drew the Webbers to nursing.
“What I absolutely love about nursing is that it allows you to get close enough to a person to hear their heart while also meeting some kind of physical need,” Dr. Webber said. “You can foster hope and make a difference. I love being a nurse for that reason.”
By Melissa Caperton
Article Published: Wednesday, May 6, 2020