Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

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

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...

Maintaining Mission Readiness During a Pandemic

Article
8/24/2021
Gen. Place presents at HIMSS in Las Vegas.

DHA Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place discussed the national security implications of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Heroes Behind the Mask | Deployment Health

Got Your 6: August 16, 2021

Video
8/16/2021
Got Your 6: August 16, 2021

‘Got Your 6’ is TRICARE’s COVID vaccine video series that delivers important information and updates, on days that end in ‘6.’ It includes the latest information about DOD vaccine distribution, the TRICARE health benefit, and vaccine availability. Got a question about ‘Got Your 6’? Send an email to dha.ncr.comm.mbx.dha-internal-communications@mail.mil Find your local military provider at tricare.mil/MTF, or go to tricare.mil/vaccineappointments and schedule yours today!

Recommended Content:

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

Lt. Gen. Place and Command Sgt. Maj. Gragg on Getting Vaccinated

Video
8/16/2021
DHA Logo with the text: Importance of Vaccinations Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place & Command Sgt. Maj. Michael L. Gragg

DHA Director Lt. Gen. Ron Place and DHA Senior Enlisted Leader Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg talk about how getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is more important than ever.

Recommended Content:

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

Reform, COVID-19 Have Been Catalysts for Change in Military Medicine

Article
8/16/2021
Dr. Terry Adirim speaking to an audience at a conference

Healthcare is about taking care of people, so no amount of change or innovation is ever sufficient if modernization does not lead to helping patients, says acting ASDHA at HIMSS21 in Las Vegas.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Military Health System Transformation

Don't Hesitate: Vaccinate Today for School

Article
8/13/2021
A boy gets the COVID-19 vaccine

Back to School Means Vaccine Time

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus | Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Vaccine Recommendations | Children's Health | Immunizations | TRICARE Health Program

Services Will Make Call on Religious Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccines

Article
8/13/2021
Two medical people prepare syringes with doses of the COVID-19 vaccine

"There is a religious exemption possibility for any mandatory vaccine, and there's a process that we go through to counsel the individual both from a medical and from a command perspective about using a religious exemption," Kirby said.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Austin Seeks Presidential Approval for Mandatory Troop Vaccinations by Mid-September

Article
8/10/2021
Sailors receive COVID-19 vaccinations

The COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for service members by mid-September, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a message to the force released yesterday.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Top Military Medical Doctor Predicts Coronavirus Longevity

Article
8/9/2021
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of Defense Health Agency, delivers remarks at a media briefing on COVID-19 at the Pentagon, April 21, 2021

I believe we will get to a place where we're not talking about COVID all the time

Recommended Content:

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

Senior Medical Leaders Discuss COVID-19 Response

Article
8/6/2021
Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency making remarks

The keys to tackling the emerging COVID-19 pandemic were to quickly develop a comprehensive understanding of the virus, and then put a plan in place to fight it, says DHA Director.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

Debunking Anti-Vaccine Myths with Scientific Facts

Article
8/5/2021
A soldier gets a shot in the arm.

Get the facts: Myths on why not to get COVID-19 vaccination debunked by science

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Line Leader Presentation (PDF)

Publication
8/4/2021

This document is identical to the PowerPoint presentation for line leader reference and use.

Recommended Content:

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

Line Leader Presentation (Powerpoint)

Publication
8/4/2021

Leaders across the Department can leverage this briefing deck to discuss COVID-19 vaccines with their troops. Don't forget to reference speaker notes and to personalize the title slide!

Recommended Content:

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

Mask Guidance for Department of Defense Facilities

Infographic
7/30/2021
In accordance with CDC guidance, the Department of Defense (DOD) requires all Service members, Federal employees, onsite contractor employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in all indoor DOD facilities.   If you are not vaccinated, continue to physically distance consistent with applicable CDC and DOD Force Health Protection Guidance.

In accordance with CDC guidance, the Department of Defense (DOD) requires all Service members, Federal employees, onsite contractor employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in all indoor DOD facilities. If you are not vaccinated, continue to physically distance consistent with applicable CDC and DOD Force Health Protection Guidance.

Recommended Content:

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

COVID-19 Vaccines: Benefits Still Outweigh the Risks

Article
7/30/2021
Military personnel getting vaccinated

Breakthrough COVID-19 Infections are extremely rare, DHA’s Place says

Recommended Content:

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

DOD Directs Employees to Start Wearing Face Masks Again

Article
7/29/2021
Military personnel wearing a face masks

Following guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DOD has directed employees working in areas at high risk for transmission to begin using face masks again

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Delta Variant
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 35

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.