Since my early childhood, I’ve always looked up at different notable women for inspiration. At different stages of my life, there were unique role models, usually recognized for their social or political contributions to the society. In fact, it’s truly amazing to see all the countries with the best Coronavirus responses are run by women. 

My recent inspiration has nothing to do with public recognition and fame. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been following the story of Ayia Ultman, a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department at a Level 1 Trauma Center — Memorial Regional Hospital, in Hollywood FL. Ayia has shared some personal experiences and struggles as a frontline healthcare worker at a high-volume, high-pace and somewhat chaotic hospital.

During the last three months, most of the healthcare workers have been facing unprecedented challenges — supply shortages, shifting protocols, and uncertainty about their own health status.

According to Ayia, “When coming into work, the nurses don’t know what to expect in the ER. They don’t know who will walk through the doors that day, the level of acuity or even if they will have the appropriate number of staff versus patient census.” 

Every singe day, healthcare workers keep meeting new emotional challenges, witnessing so much fear and loneliness in the eyes of their patients. No visitors are allowed into the hospital in the attempt to reduce the exposure of COVID-19. 

Ayia: “It is heartbreaking, and it is my job to make them feel safe and comfortable while under my care as their primary nurse. At times, I even offer my cell phone to video chat with their loved ones in an effort to reduce their level of anxiety and panic while maintaining my composure for them. There are so many steps to keep in mind for my safety and others. It can be very overwhelming and many times causing me to question myself if I did it properly and safely. And that is only one of many questionable moments.”

What comes really shocking to me, is the fact that many health workers are still missing PPE.  One of Ayia’s personal struggles is the shortage of the size small N95 masks. In the last couple weeks, the nurses have been required to wear one mask for 12 hours and then have it sterilized and re-used. The masks return with a strong chemical odor that the nurses have to inhale for another 12 hours. These mask are also not as tight and secure, sometimes they break and pop off. They are also pretty uncomfortable and often cause physical pain to the nurses. Ayia: “I have come home with skin breakdown on my nose and bruises on my cheeks.”

Ayia is a real hero and her story inspired us to take action! Together with my friend, activist and social entrepreneur Alissa Baier-Lentz, we teamed up with a group of  female founders from the East and West Coasts to draw attention to the mask supply problem and raise funds for buying 1,000 masks. Last week, we produced our first online Covid-19 fundraiser – The Change Summit – featuring 20 female entrepreneurs, investors,  environmental activists, and singers: Grace Kelly’s granddaughter Jazmin Grace Grimaldi premiered her new single “Fearless” to emphasize her support to the healthcare workers. The keynote speakers included Julia Jackson, a second-generation proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, who has dedicated her life to the environment on a global scale, and Kathleen Entwistle, the Senior VP of Private Wealth Management at UBS. Some of the speakers included: Odile Roujol,  Founder of the FaB Fashion & Beauty Tech; Emna Ghariani, Founder and CEO of Veamly;  Chante Harris, Venture Partner at Republic; Carina Ayden, Founder and CEO of EFFI Foods; Kat Dey, Co-Founder & President of Ettitude; Alisa Rusanoff, Co-founder of Newbridge Global; Viktoria Davis, Founder of WellSpringMind; Mindset Expert Darya Tsvenger, and the World’s Renowned Near-death Survivor, Transformational Leader Cherie Aimée. Our initiative was supported by a few mission driven companies, including a network of shared workspaces Canopy;  the all-in-one social network URIJU; and the mobile app and website that provides personalized recipe recommendations Yummly.

Ayia could not participate as she was working on yet another 12-hour shift. But we were happy to read her message to the guests: “There are days where I have to dig deep to find the strength, physically and mentally, for my patients. There are moments of great triumph when we successfully stabilize a declining sick patient and keep them alive. There are also unfortunate moments of defeat when we cannot do anything more for the sick patient.”