Redding mom on COVID-19 front lines in Detroit finally comes home

David Benda Redding Record SearchlightPublished 5:00 PM EDT Aug 1, 2020Redding resident Jacquline Gallegos, a

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Redding resident Jacquline Gallegos, a respiratory therapist, came home Saturday after spending nearly three months taking care of COVID-19 patients in one of America's hardest hit cities.

She had not seen her husband, J.J. Gallegos, a Red Bluff police officer, and her four sons in nearly three months before Saturday’s homecoming.

“It’s mixed emotions because I made family here, so it’s sad to leave, but I’m happy to see my family. I missed them because FaceTime can only do so much,” the 31-year-old Gallegos told the Record Searchlight by phone Thursday evening from Detroit after finishing her final shift at Select Specialty Hospital.

Select Specialty is on the seventh floor of Sinai-Grace Hospital in northwest Detroit. In the early days of the pandemic, Sinai-Grace struggled to care for coronavirus patients. In April, hospital officials spoke with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of concerns about the hospital's high COVID-19 mortality rates, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Gallegos was jobless after a sleep disorder doctor she had worked for in Redding was forced to close temporarily due to the pandemic. She got the job in Detroit through an agency that works with respiratory therapists.

Gallegos had few reservations about going to a city she had never been to before to help in the fight against this global pandemic.

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“I have four boys, I talked to my older boys, my husband, my parents, and I said with all the doctors and nurses and everybody, if their families told them don’t go, then there would be nobody out there to help these people,” Gallegos said. “My husband, being a police officer, I know if there was anything big going on, he would help, too.”

Gallegos’ parents, Dan and Cecilia Stanley of Anderson, have been watching her four boys, who range in age from 10 years old to 11 months.

“We supported her, and we have taken care of the four boys from the time they were born, so it was not a hard thing to get used to,” Dan Stanley said, noting that 5-year-old J.D. and 3-year-old Donnie would ask almost daily about their mom. “They would say, ‘Where’s Mom? When’s Mom coming home?’ We just had to tell them, she’s working.”

The Stanleys were concerned about their daughter.

“We continually would tell her to stay safe, but you know, when you think about it, she could probably get the virus there just as easy as she could get it here,” Stanley said Thursday afternoon.

Gallegos said the work at times was grueling. Some of the protective gowns she would wear felt like putting on a large trash bag. The Midwest's summertime humidity also took its toll.

“It was a lot of work and I felt like you were running on your feet all the time,” she said. “I didn’t worry about my safety because you are caring for these patients at a time when their family couldn’t come up to see them, and they were dying by themselves. It was sad to see.”

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To help families connect with their loved ones, Gallegos and other caregivers would use FaceTime, tablets and even download apps on their own phones.

“We had loved ones, they were married, and they both got it, and one of the spouses died, and it’s kind of like, do they (the other spouse) even know that, or do they remember that?” Gallegos said.

So watching patients recover from the virus was amazing, and Gallegos said the friendships she has made with the people she worked alongside will be long-lasting.

“Today was my last day and I had thank-you cards, a cake,” she said Thursday. “I made friends, no family — they are family now. You can’t go through something like this and not call them family.

“We leaned on each other, expressed frustration with each other on certain things; we laughed, we cried. I definitely made some family here.”

Gallegos rented an Airbnb from a family she said could not have been more gracious.

“They actually picked me up from the airport. So they picked up a stranger at the airport,” she said, “and they gave me the best hospitality I could have imagined.”

Related: California narrows testing priority as virus cases surge

Gallegos doesn’t rule out going back out to help.

“I will put out for some California places to try to stay closer to home, see my family more,” Gallegos said.

Dan and Cecilia Stanley are proud of their daughter.

“For us, it’s a really big thing,” Dan said. “But to me she’s a hero, and I think she’s sacrificed a lot and their boys have suffered a lot. ... Although I don’t think they feel too much sacrifice because they got to be with their grandparents.”

David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly "Buzz on the Street" column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-225-8219. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.
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