Community Heroes: Bristol nurse creates 250+ face masks for essential workers while tackling first year of medical work

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BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) Healthcare workers are strong and resilient.

If you open a dictionary, you will notice Heather Leonard is the equivalent of these two words.

She is one of the medical workers at Bristol Regional Medical Center.

In her first year of being a nurse, Leonard has the tough task of taking on a global pandemic, among her fellow medical workers, but she has taken the challenge in stride.

“It’s scary but at the same time, you can’t let fear paralyze you. Figure out what to do with it and do something good with that fear,” Heather Leonard said.

She comes from a family full of public servants. Her mother and sister work in the medical field, her father is a truck driver and her brother works in law enforcement.

“My dad is a truck driver, and I think a lot of people don’t recognize truck drivers as essential workers. They run the country. They keep the country. They keep it going and when my dad had told me that a lot of these truckers are going to states, where they can’t get out of their truck without a mask on… and they didn’t have the supplies that healthcare workers do or grocery store workers do,” Leonard said.

She made about 60 masks for her father and his colleagues at Shoun Trucking Company.

It prompted her to create masks for her colleagues at BRMC and other essential workers, during the COVID-19 crisis.

“As a healthcare worker, we are acutely aware of the possibility of a PPE shortage and not having those supplies, and I would rather be prepared,” Leornard said.

“She just came home one day and said, ‘I’m going to make masks, and I was like, um what?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to make masks and I’m going to buy a sewing machine and the materials.’ That day, she came back and she had probably 30 to 40 different types of fabric,” Leonard’s fiance, Susan Greenway said.

Leonard does not have a background in sewing but quickly taught herself, Greenway told ABC Tri-Cities’ Pheben Kassahun.

Greenway said, “Heather’s been a caregiver as long as I’ve known her.”

Leonard can make about five masks in ten minutes and would sew them before and after work.

“I know as a healthcare worker, we think that we’re prepared for everything. We’re trained to be prepared for everything. We assess constantly, so that we can catch anything that may be going wrong. With this, I don’t think that we were as prepared as we could have been,” Leonard explained.

She has sewn about 250 masks, and counting!

Leonard told Kassahun that she is really appreciative of the community’s outreach during the pandemic.

“People who aren’t in the healthcare field, who are making masks for the hospitals, and buying food for the staff and sending it to the hospital and putting signs up outside the facilties just letting us know as healthcare workers that they are on our side,” she said.

As she nears completion of her first year of being a nurse, she recalled why she joined the fleet of medical workers at BRMC.

“This is how I can help. This is a job that no matter what, you’re always going to be needed and there’s always a place where you can go to do some kind of good,” Leonard said. “My mom is probably the biggest inspiration. She’s been a nurse for years and she’s still going at it and she still looks at it as this is the best thing she’s ever done with her life.”

Her 12-hour shift does not come easy, but seeing her patients recover and fellow nurses by her side, she is reminded why she was called to be a nurse.

“Getting to see those patients who you’ve had for a three-day stretch or a couple of weeks where you see them every day that you work, then they actually get to leave the hospital. They thank you as they’re going out and you know that they’re doing better than when they came in and saw you,” Leonard said. “On a daily basis, the nurses that I work with on Four West at Bristol Regional, my charge nurse, Sarah Rush. All my preceptors, who as a baby nurse, took me under their wing and taught me everything they knew.”

When asked what the best advice she ever received was, she had this to say:

“Other than ‘don’t quit’ would be every patient is your only patient. When you’re with them, they are it. They are your entire world, they are your family. No matter what happens, they are your patient and they are your focus at that time,” Leonard said.

That is why she is our community hero.

If you know someone who makes our community a better place to live, we want to hear from you! Nominate them to be an ABC Tri-Cities Community Hero! Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to nominate them.

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