BUFFALO, N.Y. — For as long as she can remember, Christie Leas, always wanted to be a nurse.
"I don't mean to sound cliche, but I feel like nursing found me," she told 2 On Your Side. "It's just something I always knew I wanted to do. I never second guessed it or anything like that. Whenever my friends in school said, 'what are you going to go for in school after you graduate,' I just always said it's going to be nursing."
She started her career at ECMC in 2011, and in January, was promoted to unit manager for the hospital's new ICU. When the coronavirus pandemic struck just two months later, Christie's team moved to an ICU twice the size on a different floor to care entirely for COVID-19 patients.
"I never thought I would be a nurse manager, let alone managing during a pandemic," she said. "But looking back, I don't think there's anything else I would rather be doing."
Leas said it was scary in the beginning, especially for some of her staff who naturally were concerned.
"I'm the person that they come to, so I had to be educated as to what was going on," Leas said. "I feel like there's sometimes no time to be scared, you just have to react and do your best. Just taking it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day."
Leas says one of the most challenging part of the pandemic is the way nurses have had step in as their patients' family members since they can't have visitors in the COVID-19 unit.
"You're the one holding their hand, you're the one putting up Zoom calls so they can see their loved one on an iPad, and get some kind of face time, in a way," Christie said. "You are more of an advocate for this patient than you've ever been."
She admits some days are very difficult.
"Once in a while, maybe a nurse will break down, but then they put their cap back on, or their mask back on, and they go right out there. As nurses we're used to putting others first, and ourselves second, especially while at work, because you have to be strong for those patients," Leas said. "I think everyone is doing an amazing job. I'm just, I'm so proud to be on this team with them."
Christie says a bright spot in all of this is what happens every time a coronavirus patient recovers and leaves the hospital. Each time that happens, "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles plays throughout the building to celebrate the patient's recovery.
2 On Your Side will recognize and celebrate all of Western New York's nurses fighting this pandemic in honor of Nurse's Week, May 6 - 12. Share your photos with us with #BeOn2.
If you'd like to support to ECMC's caregivers on the front lines of the pandemic, you can make a donation to their fund at ECMC.com/donate.