Doctor in PPE taking care of patient

Patient Story

Behind the PPE – Q&A with COVID Care Unit Staff


We asked two of our staff members to share their experiences in working with survivors of COVID-19 in our COVID Care Unit.

Here’s a Q&A with Environmental Services Tech (EVS), Kathy Brown and Attending Physician Leslie Rydberg, MD.

Kathy B and Leslie Rydberg
Kathy Brown (left) and Leslie Rydberg, MD (right)
  1. What role do you have on the COVID Care Unit?

Leslie: I am the Attending Physician on the Unit. My role is quite similar to the interdisciplinary approach we take in treating patients in the Nerve, Muscle & Bone Innovation Center.

Kathy: My role is in Environmental Service Tech, also known as housekeeping.

  1. Why did you decide to work on the COVID Care Unit?

Kathy: I volunteered. I thought it was important to show support and unity at a difficult time for so many people.

Leslie: When the pandemic first hit, I had a lot of questions. Will my family be safe? Will everyone I know get COVID-19? Will the hospitals be completely overwhelmed? Most importantly, however, I asked myself, “How can I help?” When I heard about the lengthy ICU and hospital stays COVID-19 patients were requiring, I realized that the rehabilitation team would have a very important role in the recovery of survivors, and I wanted to help.

  1. What is one thing you’ve learned while working with survivors of COVID-19?

Leslie: Our first three patients who were admitted to the COVID Care Unit had been on a ventilator in the ICU for more than 10 days. Their medical histories were strikingly similar — dysphagia, blood clots, renal dysfunction, mild proximal weakness, hand weakness, gait instability, mild cognitive deficits and endurance deficits. We have gotten a really good sense of the kinds of challenges that these survivors face, and we are well equipped to care for COVID-19 survivors in our interdisciplinary setting.

Kathy: I’ve learned patience and gratitude. To see so many people away from their families for so long, yet still be in good spirits because they’re happy to be alive. It’s so humbling. 

  1. What has most surprised you the most in working on the COVID Care Unit?

Kathy: The 20th floor has become this close-knit family. In the beginning, everyone was willing to help, despite personal reservations and anxiety. Now, the unit has become our norm so that things just flow smoothly. What’s surprised me the most is the level of dedication to our patients’ well-being and road to recovery.

Leslie: It’s been so gratifying to watch our team come together to provide the best possible care for these patients — despite being in full PPE, despite not being able to access all hospital resources due to isolation precautions, despite the isolation our patients feel from not having visitors, despite the anxiety that patients, families and staff are all experiencing. The best part? Our patients are recovering.

  1. What is the most rewarding part of working on the COVID Care Unit?

Leslie: Our patients are working so hard to recover from COVID pneumonia, and they are having amazing outcomes. One of the best parts of working in the COVID Care Unit is witnessing the joy our patients are feeling when they are reunited with their families at discharge.

Kathy: I am proud to be a part of a workplace that recognizes everyone in need of services and takes the necessary steps to accommodate them. Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has a great community of people who have banded together to help those suffering in this pandemic. That’s the true definition of a superhero in my opinion. 


Our entire team on the COVID Care Unit was recently featured in Crain’s Chicago Business  “Notable Health Care Heroes” for providing rehabilitation care to recovering patients, deploying wearable sensors to track symptoms, coordinating discharges and preparing patients to return to their homes and communities. We thank and praise these heroes for their skill, courage and commitment to helping people.

We are proud of these individuals and teams serving on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. To support their work, we encourage you to make a gift today.

Read our second installment of Q&A with our COVID Care Unit with Speech-Language Pathologist, Kathleen Webler and Registered Nurse, Valerie Torresbertoni. .

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The inpatient care teams at AbilityLab help patients reach their goals and return to home, work, or school with a combination of therapy, science and technology. See what makes our integrated, translational care model different. 

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