By Darla Martin Tucker
When senior pre-med student Marielis George received the email in March announcing La Sierra University’s transition online due to the advancing pandemic, she faced a daunting reality.
The university allowed dorm students to remain on campus if they faced difficulty returning home. George, an Angwin Hall resident and native New Yorker with just months remaining in her degree program, had the option of staying. But she felt a responsibility to her parents and also to the university to leave campus and fly back East to Yonkers, 20 miles outside of New York City. She arrived on March 15, during the weeks when the Big Apple was buckling under the pandemic’s devastating spread—a horrific scenario that was destined to become much worse. Major spikes struck in April, overwhelming hospitals and medical personnel.
“The scary part was that home was/is New York—the state responsible for most of the cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.,” George wrote in a short profile in early April for the university’s #LaSierraTogether webpage (https://lasierra.edu/together/). In Yonkers, George’s father, Mario George, wanted his daughter to remain safely secluded in their family’s home. But Marielis had other plans. She is a certified emergency medical technician who is studying health science with a bio-health concentration as well as pre-med courses toward becoming a surgeon or physician. She felt called to serve on the frontlines of the pandemic, and, in spite of the dangers and her fears, she signed up to work as an EMT with an ambulance company in her hometown.
During spring break, George worked roughly 64 hours a week. She now works weekends while taking five La Sierra classes over Zoom video conferencing. Her company often responds to emergency calls in New York City, and the majority of George’s journeys have been to help people stricken by the highly contagious COVID-19. She and her co-workers are careful in their use of protective gear. “We simply provide help where help is needed,” George said. “Protocols have been modified in order to properly execute care during this pandemic. My wonderful mother has been making masks, so I use the one she made for me, but we only ‘gear up’ when we are dispatched to a patient that is suspected of COVID-19 or that has tested positive. Although it is dangerous, we do not gear up for every call because of the limited resources.”
Her workday begins by meeting up with her partner and inspecting her ambulance and medic bag to ensure all necessary supplies are present. There is also mental and emotional preparation, an aspect of the job that is included in EMT training. “It is challenging to deal with patients at this time simply because everyone is in panic and confusion. I constantly have to remind myself to remain calm so my patients remain calm,” she said. “Emotionally, it’s hard to see families and patients suffer.”
The suffering found its way into George’s own family. The rapidly spreading disease took the life of her aunt, followed by her aunt’s husband nine days later. Relying on her faith and the support of family and friends, the university senior continues pushing forward in her effort to help those in distress. Her own loss has helped her better connect with those stricken by illness. “I noticed that I am able to find the proper words to say to patients much quicker than before,” she said. “COVID isn’t going to stop me from trying to make a positive impact on those who cross my path.”
George, her mother, Seneida George, and her older sister, Melise Reyes, are Seventh-day Adventists and attend the Spanish Yonkers church.
“Through these trials I definitely enjoy reading my Bible much more—and having someone to do it with you and hold you accountable makes it so much more rewarding,” said George. “My faith definitely has been tested but thankfully not weakened.”
As she notes in her LaSierraTogether profile, “Comfort is found knowing that God knows my unknown, He’s in control of my sadness and anxiety, and, most of all, He escaped death.”