Traveling nurse from area helps tackle COVID-19

By Jason Arndt
Staff Writer

Paige Wightman, of Burlington, wears personal protective equipment while working as a nurse at a hospital in Indiana (Submitted/Standard Press).

Paige Wightman’s eyes have seen realities of COVID-19 and the toll the virus takes on patients while working as a traveling registered nurse.

Wightman, a 2009 Burlington High School graduate, has spent nearly two months in a COVID-19 unit at a South Bend, Indiana, hospital.

St. Joseph County, which includes South Bend, had a total of 810 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 25 deaths.

Wightman, who started her nursing career at Aurora Health Care in Burlington, currently works at Beacon Memorial Hospital in the Ortho Neuro Trauma inpatient unit, which includes a designated unit for COVID-19 patients.

“It’s been a pretty emotional experience,” she said.

“While I am not working in the ICU where patients are on vents, we are still seeing a variety of patients and they are very sick.”

COVID-19, she said, has infected people from healthy marathon runners and others under 40 years old to people in their 80s and 90s.

Wightman said she has witnessed both triumph, including sending elderly people home, and tragedy while working with COVID-19 patients.

“It is inspiring and exciting to see people get better and be ready to go home, but we have the opposite end of the spectrum where we have to hold an iPad up for a family meeting to discuss end of life care or when a patient is in their room, dying and their family can’t be there,” she said.

“It is amazing that we have this technology, but it’s really heartbreaking that this is the only way these people are having their last moments with family.”

Hospitals nationwide have limited visitors to stem the spread of COVID-19.

While she has worked with many families, she has not seen her own in Burlington, where her parents Craig and Tina have spent the last two months caring for her dog.

“I had to send my dog, Dex, back to Wisconsin to be cared for by my parents due to initially being mandated to stay overnight in the hospital and I have not seen him or my family in two months and I do not know when that will change,” said Wightman, the oldest of four siblings.

According to Tina, the decision hinged on Paige’s long hours, potentially exposing Dex to COVID-19 and closure of a dog day care she used in Indiana.

The separation, Tina said, has been difficult for Paige.

“Anyone that knows Paige, knows she is extremely attached to her fur-baby,” she said.

Paige Wightman, a registered nurse, has been separated from her beloved dog, Dex, for the past two months while she cares for COVID-19 patients (Submitted/Standard Press).

Selfless work ethic
Tina said Paige always had an interest in the medical field while growing up in the Burlington area.

Initially, according to Tina, Paige was drawn to forensics or the medical investigation of crimes before finding a purpose in nursing.

“She is 110% selfless in work and life,” Tina said. “We have not seen her in two months and because she will have to self quarantine for 14 days when she is done with COVID patients, we have no idea when we can see her again. I imagine it will be months before that happens.”

Tina said Paige was supposed to start graduate school in March, but had to put her plans on hold, since COVID-19 picked up and there was a need for nurses.

Paige’s sister, Sawyer, the youngest of four, describes Paige as an inspiration and willing to help others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified Paige’s willingness to step up for patients.

“She has always been a great nurse, and this entire situation shows how much she is willing to go above and beyond to help her patients,” said Sawyer, who just graduated from Ferris State University in Michigan with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing.

“Both her and my other sister, Rylee Chriske, have always been huge inspirations and the best role models for me. I hope to be as successful as they both are in my future nursing career.”

Rylee serves as a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in Racine.

The Wightmans also have a son, Jackson.

Challenging journey
After Paige graduated from Burlington High School, she went to Bryant and Stratton College in Milwaukee, where she received a nursing degree.

She then followed up with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Grand Canyon University.

Paige, who worked for Aurora in Burlington for 2-1/2 years, decided to become a traveling nurse and has encountered challenges along the way.

One of the stops included Las Vegas around the time of the mass shooting, which claimed nearly 60 lives and wounded hundreds of other people.

“I was actually a nurse there during the Las Vegas shooting and had the privilege of caring for many of those victims,” said Paige, who worked as a telemetry nurse at the time.

COVID-19 a reality
In recent weeks, there have been controversial social media posts with misinformation related to COVID-19, Paige said.

The misinformation, as well as some skepticism, has not made the pandemic any easier.

“It truly blows my mind that there are still people that are skeptical of or denying COVID-19,” she said.

“This is a really emotional time for everyone and posting controversial posts on social media just to stay relevant is hindering and unnecessary.”

Sawyer, meanwhile, has started a fundraiser to provide snacks for Paige and other health care workers on Paige’s unit in Indiana.

Donations can be submitted on Venmo to Sawyer-Wightman or Paige-Wightman.