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SLU couple says goodbye after delaying retirement to help with pandemic

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    ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — John and Carol Hemkens met 45 years ago at DePaul Hospital. She was a nurse and he was a respiratory therapist.

“We met in a dark room on the night shift at the hospital,” said Carol Hemkens. They were married just a few years later.

And now they are getting ready to say goodbye to one chapter and hello to the next. “I’m willing to try retirement and see if I get bored,” joked her husband.

The couple has worked at SLU Hospital for the majority of their careers, more than 40 years. They were set to retire last year but decided to stay on and help during the pandemic.

“It just seemed like that wasn’t the right time to go with everything that was going on in the community, our skills were still needed,” explained Carol Hemkens. She works as an RN in the post-recovery unit. It was nearly as busy as other parts of the hospital.

But for her husband, being a respiratory therapist amidst the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging. But he’s never lost his passion.

“It’s very rewarding to work with the very sick patients and watch them to heal or you make them comfortable at the end of their life,” he said.

As they walk the halls of SLU Hospital for some of the last times, their impact is clear. Other staff waves hello, tears up as they hug goodbye. They’ve taught countless residents and fellows over the years and now their story could be one that inspires others.

Despite a year of challenges in the nursing and medical field, young people are still signing up for the career. Nursing schools, including SIUE in Illinois are seeing record enrollment.

The couple says they plan to travel and spend time with family in their retirement, finally taking a trip postponed since last year. But they don’t regret for one moment, staying on during the last year.

“There weren’t many people who could make a contribution,” said Carol Hemkens. “So many people were so frightened and you were so alone in so many ways, and we could still be an outreach, we could still do something.”

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