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Hilo nurse shares two sides of COVID-19 crisis after losing grandfather at Yukio Okutsu

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    HILO, HI (KITV) — Caitee McAllister, a registered nurse at Hilo Medical Center, spoke exclusively to KITV-4’s Annalisa Burgos about seeing her grandparents at Yukio Okutsu, when she worked there to help the short-staffed facility.

“It’s been a tough week for our family. Of course, it’s been a tough week for many families in Hilo right now,” she said.

McAllister’s grandparents Richard Sadaichi Uejo and Masue Uejo have lived at Yukio for more than a decade. The facility was a second home for their family, but everything changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a hard season for the last six seven months being separated cause that’s the place we spent every night having dinner and talking stories,” she said.

When the outbreak hit Yukio and the administration asked for help from Hilo Medical Center, McAllister volunteered. It was a chance to see her grandparents.

“I was actually with the DON, the director of nursing at Yukio, as they told my grandma that she had COVID,” she said.

Soon after, her grandfather — a World War II army veteran — contracted it.

“I went over to him and he was sleeping and I touched his face. I said, grandpa. And he said, he woke up and he said, I might dreaming, you know, like, am I dreaming? And, um, so that was the last time I got to see him was that moment. So. I was grateful for that time that I had to not only help the veterans, but to see my grandparents or my grandpa for the last time,” she said.

Through it all, McAllister says the Yukio staff have shown compassion and resilience amid all the death and public criticism.

“I think it’s important to not just point fingers, but like really sit together and do what we’re doing and say, hey, we need to figure this out. We need to protect our kupuna. Um, because they then get to choose for themselves. You know, they didn’t go out and do stuff. This was brought to them and they are the most vulnerable,” she said. “We need to cheer for our nurses because they are doing the best that they can and then there’s always just room to grow.”

Yukio officials believe the virus entered through an asymptomatic staff member and a resident who was exposed at an outside dialysis appointment.

McAllister says healthcare workers need support, not judgment.

“I know the sacrifice that these nurses are going through. As I mourn, I’m not able to see my at-risk family members because, of me taking care of COVID patients. And so to mourn independently and knowing the isolation in that, and then being able to sit with patients and be the one holding their hand, I think has been a really beautiful thing,” she said.

McAllister has dedicated her career to giving.. a fitting tribute for the veterans who have have already given to the country.

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