Back to Top Skip to main content

US Coast Guard spouse volunteers at Maastricht hospital, saves lives

Image of nurse with mask Vanessa Banks-Gonzales, an experienced acute care nurse practitioner and spouse of U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Gonzales III, volunteers at Maastricht University Hospital's COVID-19 intensive care unit. The Gonzales Family moved to Maastricht when Lt. Commander Gonzales III received orders to serve with the Coastguard at the NATO base in Brunssum, the Netherlands. (Courtesy photo)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Heroes Behind the Mask | National Nurses Week

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands -- When Vanessa Banks-Gonzales, an experienced acute care nurse practitioner and spouse of Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Gonzales III, heard about Maastricht University Hospital's need for volunteers with medical experience, she answered the call.

In the past six weeks, Banks-Gonzales has been working alongside Dutch colleagues at the Maastricht COVID-19 intensive care unit, where she takes care of severely ill patients: people who depend on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – artificial lungs – for respiratory support.

Operating an ECMO requires an advanced degree, for which Banks-Gonzales had right credentials. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree as an acute care nurse practitioner after receiving two Jack Kent Cooke scholarships.

"After the COVID crisis started in the Netherlands, we had a great shortage of ICU personnel," said Dr. Jan-Willem Sels, the intensive care specialist Banks-Gonzales works with at the hospital. "When Mrs. Banks came to us with her credentials, we didn't hesitate for one moment."

The Gonzales Family moved to Maastricht when Gonzales received orders to serve with the Coastguard at the NATO base in Brunssum. Daughter Jillian joined, and son Caleb lives in New York City.

Before the crisis, Banks-Gonzales regularly returned to the U.S. to work at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where she holds a particular employment status.

"I am very lucky with my job in Washington," she said. "It allows me to maintain my personal identity and independence. I have an incredible boss and support system in America, and I'm very grateful that I get to practice, stay relevant. Some spouses don't have that opportunity."

As the crisis hit, her immediate desire was to go back to America and support her colleagues and people affected. When it became clear that a return journey would be impossible, Banks-Gonzales felt guilty.

"I was staying at home when I could help,” she said. “I didn't want my work family to suffer, to go through that alone. We always go in together."

With no option than to stay in the Netherlands, she turned her attention to local initiatives and organizations. Finally, it was an English news report by RTV Maastricht that caught her attention: Maastricht University Hospital was looking for help from volunteers with any medical experience. On a Thursday, she met with the hospital staff, on the Monday after that, she started.

"When Vanessa came and offered her help, we gladly accepted," said Sels. "What we're experiencing now with the coronavirus is unlike anything we've ever encountered. We're used to very sick people, but the sheer volume of patients in the ICU, especially in the first weeks, was overwhelming. A sizeable number of these patients die in the ICU, so it made a big impression on all of us."

Banks-Gonzales kept up with the literature and had heard about the protocols from her colleagues in America, so she came prepared.

"It was what I expected," she said. "People were very sick, almost everybody in the ICU was on a ventilator. There were no visitors allowed, and nurses at the bedside were working diligently to get the patients better. It was really scary, because people were really sick."

Her work evolved quickly. Initially, she was asked to help the nurses care for ECMO patients. Then, she also started working with the medical team as a provider, developing plans of care and monitoring patients throughout the day.

Working at the COVID-19 unit does come at a cost – a personal sacrifice that remains mostly unseen.

"I'm going to be exposed to a virus that's potentially very dangerous. My priority as a mother and a wife is to protect my family," Banks-Gonzales said. "We have set up a separate sleeping space, with a private bathroom, to prevent the spreading of germs. I now sleep separately from my husband of 24 years."

She also thinks twice before going out in public, to make sure other people don't fall sick.

“Whenever possible, my husband and daughter go out for errands,” she said. “And the Coast Guard Family has been very supportive, they get our mail on the base."

The sacrifices of nurses don't end when they leave the hospital; they carry on into their everyday life.

“It's an enormous testament to what a nurse is and what nurses do: we run headfirst into situations no matter how scary they are, whether it's corona, language barriers, or practice differences," said Banks-Gonzales.

Banks-Gonzales is no stranger to sacrifice; she grew up as a military child and was, herself, on active duty in the Coast Guard for five years.

"I think that's what we as a military Family are accustomed to, making sacrifices for the greater good,” she said. “It’s not foreign to us."

The actions of Banks-Gonzales elicited admiration from her colleagues.

"She is willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good, which is admirable,” said Dr. Sels. “Of course, we, too, do our best, but we get paid for it. Mrs. Banks does it because she feels she has to help. That's intrinsic motivation, that’s something inspiring and admirable.”

On her side, Banks-Gonzales is grateful for the sacrifices made by people in the community.

"Thank you for following the measures and continuing to follow the measures until the government says it's safe,” she said. “It really sends a positive message to us healthcare professionals that the work we're doing is appreciated and supported."

She is optimistic about the easing of the measures, while also concerned.

"I'm happy that the Netherlands is taking an eased, step-by-step approach, showing great care and concern and a willingness to listen to medical experts,” Banks-Gonzales said. “And I'm also happy to go out and get a haircut."

Disclaimer: Re-published content may be edited for length and clarity.  Read original post.

You also may be interested in...

Partnerships, COVID-19 are catalysts for enterprise virtual health

Article
1/14/2021
Image of Mr. Adler with text: "Partnerships, COVID-19 are catalysts for enterprise virtual health."

Jamie Adler, the lead for the DHA’s Virtual Health Clinical Integration Office, discusses the future of virtual health (VH).

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Connected Health

COVID-19 hinders blood donations during National Blood Donor Month

Article
1/14/2021
Navy Capt. R. Wade Blizzard, commanding officer of U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia, donates blood for the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Units Diego Garcia walking blood bank on Dec. 17, 2020. The walking blood bank is a list of eligible donors who can provide blood in case of emergency. (U.S. Navy photo by Navy Seaman Apprentice Stevin Atkins)

Life-saving blood is in high-demand by the Armed Services Blood Program, as the COVID-19 has negatively impacted donations.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program | Public Health | Coronavirus | Holiday Observances

COVID presents new set of challenges for DOD environmental health

Article
1/12/2021
Group of Marines, snowshoeing through the snow

One of the most important factors to take into account when maintaining one’s overall fitness is physical environment.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness in a Pandemic | Reintroducing Total Force Fitness | January Toolkit | Coronavirus | Total Force Fitness

DOD Launches “My MilLife Guide” Text Message Program to Boost Wellness

Article
1/11/2021
The new My MilLife Guide program supports the wellness of the military community.

DoD has launched My MilLife Guide, a new program that sends text messages designed to help the military community boost overall wellness while navigating stresses related to COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Public Health | Operation Live Well | Health Readiness

Navy corpsman provides multitude of support to hospital

Article
1/8/2021
Two military personnel, wearing masks, in a supply room looking at the shelves

“Thinking outside the box is what makes a great person, let alone a Sailor," Tie said.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus

MTF facilities, markets set to resume transition heading into 2021

Article
1/6/2021
A military nurse, wearing a mask, prepares a needle for a vaccination

Butler says transition on track.

Recommended Content:

MHS Transformation | Coronavirus

BACH healthcare workers and first responders vaccinated for COVID-19

Article
1/6/2021
Soldier gives a nurse a vaccine in her left arm

BACH now joins other Defense Health Agency military treatment facilities that have received the vaccine, marking the start of a phased-in vaccination program to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Toolkit

Countering seasonal depression during the COVID-19 pandemic

Article
1/5/2021
Man with his head in his hands, sitting in front of a Christmas tree

SAD, or sometimes called seasonal depression, is a subtype of a major depressive disorder.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Mental Wellness | Mental Health Care | Depression | Suicide Prevention

MHS operational innovations continue in battle against COVID-19

Article
1/5/2021
Two medical personnel, wearing full PPE, in an operating room

MHS innovations in 2020 include a new registry for real-time COVID-19 data and a system to free up hospital beds and protect patients from the disease.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Research and Innovation | Innovation | Technology

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Publication
1/5/2021

This toolkit provides communicators across the Military Health System (MHS) with important information about the COVID-19 prevention and vaccination from the CDC to share with patients and health care professionals.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Information for Military Treatment Facility Directors | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Toolkit | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

COVID-19 Social Media Toolkit

Publication
1/5/2021

These messages are provided for you to use on your platforms with any of the images from the COVID-19 Toolkit.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Remote monitoring program enables COVID-19 patients to recover at home

Article
1/4/2021
Two medical personnel, wearing masks, looking at the contents of a home-based COVID treatment kit

The program equips COVID-19 patients needing additional monitoring with a home healthcare kit and 24/7 oversight from registered nurses to ensure a higher level of post-hospital care.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus | Innovation

DHA’s IT innovation continues during COVID-19 pandemic

Article
12/31/2020
Three military personnel, wearing masks, in front of a computer screen

IT innovations keep pace despite COVID-19 road blocks.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Research and Innovation | Technology | MHS GENESIS

DHA-IPM 20-004: Department of Defense (DoD) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Vaccination Program Implementation

Policy

This Defense Health Agency (DHA) Interim Procedures Memorandum (IPM), based on the authority of References (a) through (d), and in accordance with the guidance cited in References (e) through (aa), establishes the DHA’s procedures to implement instructions, assign responsibilities, and prescribe procedures for the COVID-19 Vaccination Program. This DHA-IPM applies to DHA, DHA Components (activities under the authority direction, and control of the DHA), Military Departments (MILDEP), and the United States Coast Guard (CG). This DHA-IPM cancels and replaces DHA-IPM 20-004, “Department of Defense (DoD) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Vaccination Program Implementation,” December 13, 2020.

Supplemental Guidance for Providing DoD Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccines to DoD Contractor Employees and Select Foreign Nationals

Policy

This memorandum provides supplemental guidance on the provision of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, in accordance with reference (a). The Defense Health Agency (DHA) is the lead coordinating DoD Component for executing this guidance, in coordination with the Military Departments and other DoD Components as appropriate.

<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 24

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.