Quite a Love Story

USD alumna Whitney Buzbee '21 (MSN)

FATHER AND DAUGHTER TAKE THE WALK OF A LIFETIME

From an early age, Whitney Buzbee ’21 (MSN) knew she wanted to become a nurse. Her grandmother was an emergency room nurse who later developed Alzheimer’s disease — and  that heartbreaking circumstance was primarily how Buzbee knew her.

“Caring for her and helping my family care for her when she was progressing in the disease really opened up my eyes to the caregivers and nurses taking care of her. That was my light into nursing,” says Buzbee. Although her experience with her grandmother made a big impact, a high school anatomy class finalized her path. “I was amazed at what the human body could do.”

Fast forward to March of 2020. Buzbee was attending USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science to earn a Master of Science in nursing, specializing as a family nurse practitioner, while also working as a nurse at a local hospital. That’s when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We had started to hear about COVID, but didn’t know the extent of it yet. I got a phone call one day saying I had been exposed,” she recalls. She began her quarantine, and a few days later developed symptoms. “I started to have a sore throat, cough, nausea and fatigue. I couldn’t tell if it was my mind playing tricks on me and I was just overly cautious and sensitive, or if this was really COVID.” She got tested and learned she was positive for the virus.

At the time, Buzbee was staying with her parents. She quarantined in her room and kept as much distance from her parents as possible but, unfortunately, they both contracted the virus too. Her mother was asymptomatic, but her father got the worst of it. He was admitted to the hospital and had to get intubated. His stay at the hospital stretched for 72 days.

“It was a very scary time. We had no idea what was going to happen,” says Buzbee.

Following his discharge, he was put into an acute rehabilitation facility where she could only speak with him for short periods of time over Zoom. He was released from the rehab facility in July, about a month before Buzbee and her then-fiancé were set to get married. At the time, her father couldn’t walk or eat on his own. Initially, the plan was for her father to use a wheelchair to guide her down the aisle.

“He was told, ‘You may never walk again, you may never eat again, and you may never talk again.’ He just took that and was like ‘Watch me,’” says Buzbee. Her father started intense physical therapy and within a month, he gained enough strength to use a walker. “It was about three days before the wedding, we asked him, ‘OK, do you want to try and walk down the aisle for the wedding?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’”

Buzbee wanted to keep this huge milestone a secret from her future husband.

“He would call and ask, ‘How is he doing today?’ We would give him little progress notes, but we decided to keep how well he was doing from him.” When the day of the August 2020 wedding came, her father surprised the groom. All eyes were on the back of the church, where Buzbee stood  next to her father who was seated in a wheelchair. He then slowly rose from his seat and escorted her to the front of the church with the aid of a walker.

“He was able to walk me down the aisle,” recalls a teary-eyed Buzbee. “That was the longest distance he had ever gone. It was huge and everyone was shocked. It was also a nice way to get the focus off of me and onto my dad, which I enjoyed. It was a great moment, and that’s what I take most out of my wedding day — him walking me down the aisle.”

For Buzbee, the way that others helped to make that moment possible was profoundly moving. “The way people came together during a time of uncertainty; well, it was untracked territory.”

Since the wedding, her dad has continued to improve. In fact, she says he’s in better health now than he has ever been in
his life. “This has really changed our whole perspective on life. Not just health, but really appreciating everything that we have.”

Buzbee says this whole experience has empowered her on her path in nursing. “I feel honored to be able to be in a position where I can care for those who are sick, who are scared, and who need that extra support. It’s an honor to care for those people. Not for one second did I question my profession and think, ‘Did I make a huge mistake?’ If anything, it just really made me proud of what I chose.” — Cameran Biltucci

Watch a video version of this story.

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