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Bronx Trauma Nurse Beats COVID-19, Uses Experience to Help Patients

Rita Esonwune is full of life. Originally from Nigeria, Esonwune is a dedicated Trauma Nurse at NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi in the Bronx and proud mother of four college graduates. She loves to exercise and has an infectious smile.

    Watch Rita leave hospital

Looking at her now, it’s hard to imagine that in March 2020, she was a COVID-19 patient receiving care at the same hospital she has worked for the past 15 years.

In mid-March 2020, Esonwune began experiencing symptoms of a cold with a cough. As her condition worsened, she started having trouble breathing, running a high fever and feeling very weak.

She told her supervisor about her symptoms and was urged to go to the Emergency Room. After she was admitted to the hospital on March 25, her fever continued to rise and it became increasingly difficult for her to breathe.

Just two days later, Esonwune was intubated, placed on a ventilator and remained in a coma for two weeks. When she regained consciousness, she felt disoriented and was unable to take care of herself.

“When I woke up, I couldn’t walk,” Esonwune said. “I couldn’t even brush my teeth. I couldn’t feed myself. I started life over…everything over.”

Despite feeling weak, Esonwune persevered as she regained her ability to walk and complete basic tasks on her own. When she was discharged on April 29, she was surprised to see many of her Jacobi colleagues cheering for her and celebrating her recovery.

“When I found out Rita had COVID-19, I was devastated,” said Dr. Eddie Chao, Director of the NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi Division of Acute Care Surgery who has worked with Esonwune for over 10 years. “I watched her get intubated and put on the ventilator and prayed for her to pull through. When she finally started recovering and we removed the breathing tube, there was a jubilation in the ICU. We needed the win, and I was most glad that it was for Rita.”

Though Esonwune was declared COVID-19 free before she was discharged, she has continued to experience complications caused by the virus. In addition to COVID-19, she also contracted double pneumonia. To date, she continues to combat bronchitis.

“My breathing was more like gasping for a while, so my vocal cords had to be examined,” she said. “I had to have surgery on my vocal cords, and breathing is still a bit hard sometimes.”

On Feb. 1, 2021, Esonwune returned as a nurse on Jacobi’s Trauma Unit. While she’s had some troubling breathing and walking for extended periods of time, she says her experience with COVID-19 has helped her become a better nurse.

“I’m proud of taking care of the patients,” she said. “When you see the patients, you remember how you were…that they’re going through the same thing. They need the same help you needed.”

Thanks to the amazing care she received at Jacobi, Esonwune is now able to go to the gym and enjoys taking walks in the park. She is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and at every opportunity, she encourages her fellow New Yorkers to do the same.

“I’m glad I had good doctors and good nurses who took care of me,” she said. “They worked tirelessly and endlessly.

“If I didn’t stay here at Jacobi, I don’t think I would have made it alive,” she said.

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