UIC Medical Center nurse who died of COVID-19 ‘gave the ultimate sacrifice’

Joyce Pacubas-Le Blanc was considered the mother hen of the hospital’s neuroscience intensive care unit.

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Joyce Pacubas-Le Blanc, a nurse at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, died Thursday after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Joyce Pacubas-Le Blanc was considered the mother hen of the neuroscience intensive care unit at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center.

Her locker at work, stocked with medicine and extra scrubs, was open to all her fellow nurses. The bulging bag she carried was always filled with other essentials like water and reading glasses, which she doled out just as freely. And when a nursing student’s iPad broke down, Pacubas-Le Blanc was quick to replace it with one of her own.

“That’s how big her heart is,” said Eileen Fajardo-Furlin, another nurse who works in the unit.

Pacubas-Le Blanc died Thursday afternoon at age 53 after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.

Her death came a day after Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced that over 2,500 health care workers in Illinois had tested positive and eight of them had “potentially” died of the disease.

But Fajardo-Furlin said she doesn’t want Pacubas-Le Blanc to simply be remembered as another figure in the rising death toll.

“She’s not just a statistic,” Fajardo-Furlin said before breaking down in tears.

Pacubas-Le Blanc’s life was typified by the care and kindness she showed to others, according to her co-workers, who said she was especially protective of newer nurses getting acclimated to the demands of the high-pressure job.

“The way she fits into our unit is that she truly is the one who gives these new nurses a hug — a motivation to keep going, because in our line of work you need to be the best that you can,” Fajardo-Furlin said. “So a lot of us push our newer nurses this way. Joyce gives them that human touch.”

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Eileen Fajardo-Furlin and Joyce Pacubas-Le Blanc worked together at the UIC Medical Center

Provided

Though the neuroscience ICU is considered a “clean” section of the hospital — meaning COVID-19 patients aren’t being treated there — Pacubas-Le Blanc’s co-worker Terence Yee said two of the four patients he has swabbed in the past three weeks tested positive for the deadly disease.

“The patients that I’ve had that were positive were asymptomatic. You don’t know who’s infected or not,” said Yee, who also serves as president of the Illinois Nurses Association.

In the wake of Pacubas-Le Blanc’s death, Yee said the group has called on the hospital to either provide easy access to testing or universally test everyone who arrives at the hospital. The group also wants staff members to be supplied with N95 respirators instead of surgical masks.

“The only way they could really make the situation safer for the health care workers is if either we presume that everybody is positive or we test everyone that comes in through our doors,” Fajardo-Furlin said. “That’s the only way to be able to provide the safest environment.

“Our expectation of our institution is to prepare us for such a situation, like a pandemic … But in this situation, we’re so grossly unprepared that it adds to our frustration.”

Michael Zenn, CEO of the University of Illinois Hospitals and Clinics, said the hospital system is “deeply and profoundly saddened by the loss of a dedicated and talented member of the UI Health family due to COVID-19.”

“Our thoughts are with this individual’s family and friends during this difficult time,” Zenn added. “Our entire UI Health and university community is grateful to the health care providers and essential workers who continue to work on the front lines during this pandemic.”

Zenn said the hospital recently began making non-fit tested N95 and KN95 masks available to all staff members, though fit-tested N95 masks are still reserved for staffers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. And startingApril 16, the hospital began testing all patients admitted to the hospital and those undergoing operations, he added.

Fajardo-Furlin recently underwent surgery and is now preparing to return to work as she reels from the loss of her friend, who she said “gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

A south suburban native who lived in Darien, Pacubas-Le Blanc was a consummate planner who mapped out her entire life and was looking forward to buying a boat with her husband, Lawrence.

Given their shared interest in making greeting cards and scrapbooks, Pacubas-Le Blanc and Fajardo-Furlin were planning to open a craft store between their homes to spend more time together.

“When her plans are cut short, it’s just so tragic,” Fajardo-Furlin said.

Pacubas-Le Blanc is survived by her husband and their sons, Derrick and Lawrence Jr. A GoFundMe page offering support to the family was launched on Sunday. In just six hours, over $5,700 of the $10,000 goal had been raised.

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