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Westminster alums, former teammates Ryan Hursey and Brian Kohr caring for COVID-19 patients

Ryan Hursey and Brian Kohr played football and lacrosse together at Westminster High School and are now working on COVID units at University of Maryland Hospital.
Ryan Hursey and Brian Kohr played football and lacrosse together at Westminster High School and are now working on COVID units at University of Maryland Hospital. (Courtesy Photo)

Brian Kohr and Ryan Hursey were next-door neighbors and attended preschool, elementary, middle, and high school together.

The two were standout football and lacrosse players at Westminster High, and helped the Owls capture their first state boys lacrosse championship as juniors in 2013. Although they parted ways for college, they pursued similar career paths that landed them roles as registered nurses at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

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They work in different departments separated by one floor but together, they’re providing aid to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Westminster's Ryan Hursey breaks free from a Middletown tackle.
Westminster's Ryan Hursey breaks free from a Middletown tackle. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

“I think a lot of the situations we went through in our sports careers definitely allowed us to hit the ground running in health care because it’s kind of like a team model,” Hursey said. “There’s a lot of team concepts and communication concepts within health care.”

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In high school, Hursey and Kohr attended the biomedical science program at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center for two years. They both wanted to pursue careers in health care, but weren’t sure which path to choose upon entering college.

Hursey, the 2014 Times Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year, attended Georgetown University where he continued his lacrosse career. He said he was one of the few Hoyas on the team who chose to study nursing and was drawn to critical care and the impact those healthcare professionals had on their patients.

Kohr attended Salisbury University for two years before transferring to the University of Maryland School of Nursing to complete his education.

“Brian and I bonded in high school over a mutual interest in science,” Hursey said. “It’s something a little bit different than a lot of other people, and then playing sports together our entire lives, sharing success, getting that bond through that.”

‘A lot of emotion’

Kohr works on a cardiac surgery unit where COVID-19 patients are kept if they have undergone cardiac surgery. Kohr was one of about 15 nurses who volunteered to work in the hospital’s bio-containment unit for about a month and he described it as a scene right out of a movie.

“Once we’re in there, we’re wearing complete body suits like full head-to-toe PAPR [personal protective equipment],” Kohr said. “[It’s] basically like an astronaut helmet that filters the air for you to make sure you’re not breathing those coronavirus particles … once you’re in, it’s a completely normal unit with about 30 patients on that floor who all tested positive.”

Westminster's, Brian Kohr, right, moves the ball up-field with Winters Mill's Zane Pusateri defending.
Westminster's, Brian Kohr, right, moves the ball up-field with Winters Mill's Zane Pusateri defending. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

Patients in the bio-containment unit are permitted to do certain things on their own, Kohr said, and nurses of difference disciplines work closely together in a team nursing style to monitor three to four patients every day.

Kohr said patients are permitted to have one visitor for four hours after they receive cardiac surgery. The nurses provide iPads to patients so they can talk to their loved ones via the Zoom platform post-surgery, but he knows it’s not the same as seeing them in person.

“Our goal with any patients that we operate on is that they’re going to survive and they’re going to go home,” Kohr said. “… In the bio-containment unit, if a patient is getting close to the point of passing away, we set up a final Zoom meeting with their family. We give them privacy, but it’s a lot of emotion and it’s really tough for the family.”

Hursey works in an 18-bed medical intensive care unit behind an airlock door that houses COVID-19-positive patients. He has seen this downside too, but has witnessed some miraculous recoveries as well.

“Sometimes you don’t know if a patient’s going to be here tomorrow, but then days, weeks go by and these people turn a corner,” Hursey said. “We got pictures the other day from families of people we’ve sent home after being on our unit with breathing tubes and medications just to keep their hearts beating and their blood pressure going.

“That kind of stuff really makes you step back and think ‘Holy crap,’ … there’s a good mix of both good and bad stories and situations.”

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Nurses on Hursey’s unit rotate with a partner in shifts to tend to patients, similar to what Kohr does in his daily routine. In these rotations, one nurse is in the “hot zone” — the designated unit with infected patients — while the other documents, tracks and gathers medications for those patients.

“We spend a lot of time back in this airlock providing patient care with some of the sickest people with this virus,” Hursey said. “We really work as a team to help manage the care.”

Kohr praised his colleagues in their handling of the pandemic’s influx and increasing acuity of COVID-19 patients to the best of their ability, with all things considered.

“We don’t discharge patients from the unit until they test negative two times, just to ensure that the first one wasn’t a false negative,” Kohr said. “When they do get discharged, they play ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ [by Journey] as they get pushed out of the unit to get discharged to a rehab center or something like that.

“It’s a big deal, and every time we hear that song it’s like a mini victory because that’s one more person that we got out.”

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