Updated: March 1, 2021
The coronavirus crisis in the United States is far from over, and more than 90,000 people have died already, but with the number of new infections steadily going down in the past few days, the heroism of frontline workers, many of them African immigrants, is only beginning to be fully understood.
Two of those who battled the deadly bug at the heat of the crisis, saving lives, and praying and hoping they would not lose theirs, are two Nigerian American nurses Ona Onyia, 23, and Uchenna Onyia-Murphy, 49.
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The mother and daughter from Arkansas were among a wave of hundreds of out-of-state nurses who descended on New York City to save lives at overwhelmed hospitals.
In a country where immigrants are often labeled criminals and rapists, the heroism of Onyia and Uchenna is an inspiration to immigrants who have been dehumanized by President Donald Trump.
According to a report on CNN, mother and daughter met every night at dusk, outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, New York, to spend a few quick moments in a tight but hasty embrace.
“The daughter is relieved her mother’s OK. The mother is hoping her daughter will be. This is the only time they can check on each other before they face the scores of coronavirus patients wheeled through the hospital doors,” the CNN report said.
It said mother and daughter decided to go to Elmhurst Hospital, called “the epicenter of the epicenter” of the coronavirus outbreak, for several reasons.
“Our desire to help triumphed our fears,” Onyia said. “Seeing how understaffed and overwhelmed New York hospitals were, we wanted to help and learn so we can help our hospitals back home if things got out of control.”
The report on CNN added: “For as long as she can remember, Onyia has always wanted to follow in her mother’s nursing footsteps.
“Her mother left a bad marriage in Nigeria and came to the US, where she attended college and works as a traveling nurse practitioner. Onyia got her degree at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and is a registered nurse.
“When her mother decided to leave their shared home in Little Rock and go to New York, Onyia did not hesitate either. She took a leave of absence from her job, packed her bags and followed her two days later.
“That was the first week of April. Since then, Onyia says, they’ve never seen anything like it.”I’ve seen more death here than in my entire career. People going from talking to being put on the ventilator within minutes,” she says. “People are dying alone because no family is allowed in the hospital.”But even with the grief, there have been moments of joy and clarity.Like when they finally remove tubes from patients who are well enough to breathe on their own. And the valuable lessons that come with working in the nation’s largest city in the middle of a pandemic.
“It has been mentally and physically exhausting, but rewarding in so many ways,” Onyia says. “This virus will be around for a while, and this experience has fully prepared me to help my home state if it has outbreaks. I feel like I can work anywhere after this.”