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AP Photos: Volunteers flood Navajo Nation in coronavirus outbreak

(Carolyn Kaster | AP) Kayenta Health Center emergency room director Dr. Anthony Griffy, second from right, works with Team Rubicon volunteers, Dr. Stan Chartoff, with the U.S. Air Force Reserve from Hartford, Conn., third from right, EMT Hannah Tellier from Boston, left and Cindy Robison, a U.S. Air Force veteran and nurse from Colorado Springs, Colo., right, as they practice with a new intubation shield that just arrived to help protect medical workers at the Kayenta Health Center emergency room Kayenta, Ariz., on April 23, 2020. Assisting the medial staff on the table, posing as a patient, is Team Rubicon safety officer and EMT Vick Dempsey. When used, the shield is placed over the coronavirus patient's head during intubation, inserting a tube down a sedated patient's throat to give them oxygen.

Under the watchful eye of Agathla Peak and just south of Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation, the Kayenta Health Center struggled under an onslaught of COVID-19.

The center’s only ventilator was in use on a patient in late April and, suddenly, the oxygen valve failed. Dennis Grooms of St. Louis spent the next three hours hand-pumping oxygen into the patient’s lungs until he could be flown to a larger medical facility.

[Read more: In close-knit Navajo Nation communities, the coronavirus takes hold]

"We had to keep him breathing," said Grooms, an EMT volunteering with the Los Angeles-based Team Rubicon. The disaster relief organization pairs the skills of military veterans with first responders and medical professionals.

After his shift ended, Grooms walked the 10 minutes back to his housing through empty parking lots and quiet playgrounds carrying his uneaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a paper bag. He sprayed his shoes with disinfectant, put his clothes into the washing machine and decompressed while soaking in the bathtub.

Team Rubicon volunteers, nurse Cindy Robison, a U.S. Air Force veteran from Colorado Springs, Colo., left, and Dennis Grooms, an EMT from St. Louis, center, work with their only ventilator, as Christra McDermont, a U.S. Navy veteran from Los Angeles, and operation section chief, counts face masks in the emergency room of the Kayenta Health Center on the Navajo reservation in Kayenta, Ariz., on April 19, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. Team Rubicon is helping with medical operations as cases of COVID-19 surge. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Still, he was glad to be there: "Almost every day you go back home from here you feel like you did something good."

Federal officials called on Team Rubicon to help fill positions at Kayenta when much of the staff was unable to go to work. The group is funded by private donations.


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