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‘This is my family’: Why a nurse in her 70s beat COVID-19 and went back to work

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Anyone who drives along Cold Spring Road on the northwest side of town can’t miss the big “HEROES WORK HERE” sign on the front lawn of Alpha Home Nursing & Rehabilitation.

The slogan, commonly bestowed upon health care workers during the pandemic, is meant to encompass those who risk their health to take care of others. And not that they’re racing for the status of most heroic among their peers, but if there ever was such a thing, Joyce Whorton would be a strong contender.

Whorton is a 73-year-old licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Alpha Home. She’s been there for 25 years after starting her career in health care at a women’s hospital in 1967.

Whorton is also a COVID-19 survivor. She contracted the virus in May and was hospitalized for nine days. Her worst symptom was dizziness, which caused her to fall multiple times and break the bones on the right side of her face. Whorton also blacked out, had no appetite, no strength.

But she kept in touch with the administration at Alpha Home, and they assured her she’d have a job waiting whenever she was ready to come back. That took about a month.

Why go back to work at all, though, as a 73-year-old who’s dedicated more than 50 years to taking care of other people?

“This is my family here,” she said through a mask and face shield.

One of the reasons Whorton wanted to work at Alpha Home is because hospital patients came and went too quickly to really build relationships. Here, she gets to know the older people who reminisce about the history of Alpha Home, which a formerly enslaved woman opened in 1886 as the Alpha Home for Aged Colored Women.

“I think this is what keeps her going,” said Alexis Hooten, also an LPN. Another admirable trait, Hooten said, is Whorton doesn’t gossip.

Bonita White, a certified nursing assistant, said Whorton is known to go out of her way to help patients get whatever they need.

“She would give her last,” White said.

Whorton didn’t say those exact words when talking about why she decided it was worth healing and getting back to work at the place she loves, but that is her mentality.

“I had my faith, and I was determined to come back,” she said. “And I stayed in prayer.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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