From the frontline: Life on a bone-marrow transplant ward during COVID-19

July 14, 2020
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Introducing Amanda McLaughlin, a Clinical Nurse Consultant, Apheresis Department of Haematology/Bone Marrow Transplant at the Kinghorn Cancer Centre (a joint facility of St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research). 

“The impact of COVID-19 has been enormous,” says Amanda Mclaughlin, a Clinical Nurse Consultant at the Kinghorn Cancer Centre here in Sydney.

“Increased infection risks for patients has seen the implementation of strict infection control procedures; extra testing, self-isolation pre-transplant, closer monitoring of symptoms, and extra cycles of chemotherapy to keep patients in remission. We take every measure to keep patients safe. A national blood product shortage is another challenge we face with decreased donor selection.”

Here, Amanda speaks about her experience during COVID-19.

What affect has COVID-19 had on bone marrow transplant patients at St Vincents? 

The impact has been enormous. Increased infection risk for patients has seen the implementation of strict infection control procedures; extra testing, self-isolation pre-transplant, closer monitoring of symptoms, and extra cycles of chemotherapy to keep patients in remission. We take every measure to keep patients safe. A national blood product shortage is another challenge we face with decreased donor selection. 

What impact has COVID-19 had on you and your work? 

I am required to undertake a strict health assessment pre-work. Anyone with a fever is sent for testing and required to self-isolate until he or she swabs negative for COVID-19. All meetings are online instead of face-to-face to reduce infection risks. Nursing teams are split into teams A and B to reduce infection risks. 

We are encouraged to drive rather than take public transport to work to reduce the risk of infection. Reduced socialisation at work with colleagues and a 1.5 metre rule is requested. Reduced socialising with others outside the home may also be requested. Fewer referrals from other departments have been evident e.g. heart, lung, renal etc. for apheresis of disease control.

Have COVID-19 and travel restrictions affected overseas donations of bone marrow/stem cells?  

There has been a huge impact on stem cell donations. Cells are frozen in a central European location and then transported. Couriers are met at the airport rather than hospitals for cell handover to reduce infection risks. It has been a massive logistical challenge.

What has been your most scary and/or rewarding experience during your time nursing bone marrow transplant patients during this pandemic? 

Scary: As a clinical nurse consultant and frontline worker, I was very concerned about asymptomatically being responsible for the spread of COVID-19 inadvertently. I was very concerned for my patient population, colleagues and my family.  

Rewarding: Extra time to up train other apheresis staff and work on ongoing projects.  

If you could ask for anything that would help you or your patients during this challenging time, what would it be — and why? 

That the greater and wider community appreciate the work all those on the frontline are doing and to continue to exercise social distancing precautions. I have appreciated that the hospital is helping staff with travel to and from work and paying for parking. 

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