Nurse’s kind gesture allows family to say goodbye to loved one with COVID-19

The ban on hospital visitors is depriving many families of their chance to comfort their sick or dying loved ones or the chance to say goodbye.
But some health care workers are bridging that gap by connecting patients with their loved ones electronically with a tablet or smartphone. One New Jersey family says that they will forever be grateful for a nurse who helped them say goodbye to their loved one.
Gerard Rotonda Jr. – an Army veteran, retired Newark firefighter and father of five - was in St. Barnabas Medical Center after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April. By April 5, his nurse Fernando Camacho said he could sense that the 84-year-old’s condition was declining.
“We have that sixth sense that some patients will have a better outcome than others,” Camacho says.
With visitors barred from the hospital and his cellphone left at home when he was admitted, Rotonda’s son, Gerard Rotonda III, said that the family was fearful that their dad might die alone with no chance to say goodbye.
“We would call and it would keep ringing every day. We thought he passed away,” says Rotonda III.
Photos: The Heroes of the Coronavirus Pandemic

The family was finally able to reach Camacho. Already swamped and caring for six patients, Camacho says that he fetched his own phone from his locker, called Rotonda’s family via FaceTime and let the family say goodbye. Rotonda died 12 hours later.
“If it wasn’t for [Camacho], I tell you, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” says Rotonda III. “I watched that video every day. Every day I watch that video. It’s a strange time. Nobody can visit their family. And here’s 84 years later, my dad has to die alone. But he didn’t. And it’s because of Fernando and the people like him that during all this stress, people protesting, he has to be careful that he doesn’t catch it as well…that just comes with character.”
Camacho says that the gratitude has become a gift of its own.
“It just makes you feel warm. It makes you feel, ‘that’s the reason I became a nurse,’ you know? These are things that give you a little uplift in times like these,” he says.
St. Barnabas has equipped staff with more tablets to allow for these kinds of connections. Some have been donated just for that purpose.