For her birthday wish this year, Dr. Ee Tay took to Facebook requesting that people donate used iPads and other tablets so COVID-19 patients could say final goodbyes to loved ones, reports HuffPost.
Tay is the chief of the pediatric ER at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. After hearing from colleagues that many coronavirus patients were dying alone in isolation wards without any way of communicating with their families, Tay began a campaign to collect a set of tablets to donate to the hospital.
Bellevue, the nation’s oldest public hospital, has been on the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus in New York City, the hardest-hit area in the United States. The state of New York has reported 222,284 cases and 12,192 deaths from the virus as of Friday, according to The New York Times.
“Sometimes, out of desperation, my ER colleagues will use their personal phones to contact family members on their patients’ behalfs, to allow them a chance to ‘see each other before passing’,” Tay told HuffPost.
However, with limited time and resources given the high number of patients, Tay said there’s little opportunity for hospital workers to do this.
According to PEOPLE, Tay’s initial call for donations on Facebook helped her collect 50 new and used iPads and Amazon Kindles. This number was soon surpassed thanks to the reach of social media and a contribution from the Bank of New York Mellon.
Ultimately, Tay was able to donate an estimated 650 tablets to NYC Health+ Hospitals/Bellevue, including Bellevue Hospital and other local hospitals like Jacobi and Elmhurst.
“Birthday wish fulfilled!” Tay wrote in a Facebook post on April 8. “You all opened your hearts and poured your generosity into my requests by sending me what you could. I received so many tablets, both new and used, which will help heal and ease the pain when patients are in the hospital.”
Tay told PEOPLE that the donated tablets will be kept at patients’ bedsides during their hospitalizations.
“To have that support, and know that your family is near and thinking of you, I think that’s really important for recovery,” Tay said. “And (to know) that you’re not alone, or you’re not dying alone.”
Other healthcare professionals agree. In an NBC report, Dr. Sandra Gomez, a palliative care physician in Houston who has supported family members in interacting with loved ones as they pass away, emphasized the importance of last opportunities for connection.
“These final moments are crucial, not only for the dying, but for the family members they leave behind,” Gomez said. “As a clinician, what I’ve learned is that family presence at the end of life is very healing for the family. And for the patients, it’s often a time to be a catalyst for reconciliation and a catalyst for forgiveness.”
Tay, who far surpassed her initial goal of 150 tablets, told PEOPLE she has already begun to think about how she can use the leftover devices — for example, by donating them to other public hospitals and nursing homes in the city.
In particular, Tay expressed that she’s hoping to support “underrepresented” immigrants communicating with hospitalized loved ones from home.
Many people “rely on jobs currently that are not there, and they can’t pay their bills,” she said. “A lot don’t have access to WiFi or a tablet. If they have an inability to have access to any of these devices, I am hoping the ones that I have collected from my network will be able to help and assist them.”
The doctor hopes that her efforts can become part of a larger movement.
“I hope that when people read this, they’ll be able to take it back to their own cities,” Tay said in her interview with PEOPLE, “and then really reach out to the hospitals in need, and perhaps start something like this, and really restore humanity during this time of crisis for their local hospitals.”
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