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Frontline workers, teachers thankful for support during times of uncertainty

Sun Journal - 11/25/2021

Nov. 25—In the last 18 months, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of life in Craven County.

An emotional and stringent time for most, nurses and teachers remain at the forefront of continuously navigating through the waters of restrictions related to COVID-19.

For two CarolinaEast Medical Center employees, both had their own hurdles to overcome. Each one, a challenge that goes unseen by the majority of local residents.

As a three-year registered nurse at the hospital, Baleigh Roach knows more about working in health care during the pandemic than she does before it.

"The first year for any nurse is the most difficult. You are fresh out of school and you don't know a lot so my first year was just like any normal year," Roach said. "Then my second year was COVID and it was hard."

Stories on struggles in healthcare are not new since March 2020. Roach explained not only working with patients who were sick, taking on more patients, and in different departments was mentally taxing on a young nurse's mind.

In some of the scarier times for patients when hospitals were forced to restrict visitations, Roach added staff would encourage them to include their loved ones through virtual means. As normalcy begins to find its way back into her life, Roach is thankful for her family.

"I grew up in Vanceboro and I have deep roots embedded here and a cushion at home. In the community, a lot of people were sick last year and so this year I am extremely thankful to be in my family's presence and to be with each other," Roach added.

Employed at CarolinaEast for 10 years, clinical coordinator Ashley Cutler started in the emergency department. Since taking the nursing supervisor job at the start of the pandemic, Cutler witnessed how COVID-19 impacted every department at the hospital.

"It was something we've never seen before. I am used to people who are sick, traumatic injuries, but seeing people this sick from something was one of the hardest things I've dealt with as a healthcare worker," Cutler said.

Sometimes having to isolate herself from her family and twin girls, Cutler relied on her work family to get her through the times of uncertainty. Her children also began kindergarten in 2020, forcing Cutler to work as a full-time employee at the hospital and a part-time homeschool teacher.

In that time, Cutler witnessed some of the horrors healthcare workers speak about at the height of the pandemic.

"Seeing people dying and not being able to help them — that's not in our nature," said an emotional Cutler. "We want to be able to help them and to see that happen, sometimes there is no way we can help them, and it's the opposite of our nature."

Holding back her tears, this Thanksgiving Cutler said she is grateful for her kids, her parents, and the support system at CarolinaEast.

"My kids are everything, they are the reason I do what I do. My parents always listen to my stories, when I cry, they support me. We (CarolinaEast) are one big family, sometimes dysfunctional, but I know if I ever needed anything, they would be there for me," said Cutler.

This last year has been a busy one for West Craven High School'sBobby Griffin. Becoming married and welcoming a baby girl into the world, Griffin's outlook on life has changed, as all parents do after their firstborn.

"Once she was born, it made me look back and realize how different my life was compared to now," said Griffin. "Living a single life, coming and going as you please, eating dinner at later hours, all of that changes when you get married and have a baby. It's about her now."

Marriage and a new baby are two of many hats Griffin wears on a daily basis. One of West Craven's physical education teachers, the head junior varsity football coach, head wrestling coach, and assistant athletic director, Griffin is involved in many student's lives.

So much so that he and other staff members did what they could to make sure students who relied on the school's nutrition program still got their meals when schools were closed during the pandemic.

"That was one of the more stressful times in the last year. Then I got sick with COVID and had to go through that. I got pulled in a lot of different directions but had a lot of good people around me for support," said Griffin.

As a 16-year school system employee, Griffin is thankful for the same things from previous years, god, friends, family, health. This year, he is thankful he gets to add two more things to the list, wife, and daughter.

Reporter Trevor Dunnell can be reached by email at tdunnell@newbernsj.com. Please consider supporting local journalism by signing up for a digital subscription.

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