Lawyer returns to first love as nurse to help remote community during pandemic
Published Friday, August 14, 2020 5:43PM EDT Last Updated Friday, August 14, 2020 5:49PM EDT
WINDSOR, ONT -- When courthouses suspended their operations in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martina Dwyer made the decision to temporarily leave her law practice in Hamilton to fight on the frontlines in a Northern Ontario Indigenous community.
Prior to obtaining her law degree from Windsor Law in 2011, Dwyer graduated from the health science program at St. Clair College. She worked as registered nurse for over 20 years in many numerous areas including public health, intensive care unit, labour and delivery.
Still a member of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), Dwyer received constant emails concerning the shortage of nurses due to the pandemic, especially public health nurses for Indigenous communities. She chose to answer the call for help by returning to her first love of nursing in a very unconventional way.
“I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I was actually leaving my life where I’m in a big city and going to a northern community where I had no experience whatsoever. I didn’t even know what to expect,” Dwyer recalls her first thoughts.
Indigenous Services Canada commissioned her to a nursing station in one the most northern communities in Ontario, Keewaywin First Nation, an Oji-Cree First Nation, accessible only by plane.
“They needed someone that was specialized in COVID and that’s what my training was. Indigenous Services taught us everything related to COVID such as how to swab and contact trace.”
The First Nation has a population about 400 people. Despite its isolated location, Dwyer quickly learned that even one case of COVID-19 can be catastrophic.
“Often many people live in one household. One case can turn into four cases. We don’t have the facilities like the southern communities, such as access to a hospital. We have a small clinic, that’s why we really needed Martina here,” says Lynn Sutherland, head of Keewaywin First Nation’s COVID team.
During Dwyer’s month-long assignment, a nursing tent was set up to screen residents. Much of her job was educating the community on how to prevent the spread of the virus through methods of proper face protection, social distancing and sanitization.
“When Martina came it was a really big help to us because we didn’t know what we’re dealing with, it was all new,” says Gloria Kakepetum, member of the Keeywaywin COVID team.
“The community was so open to learning. They love their elders, they will do anything to protect them from this virus,” says Dwyer.
Using a creative approach, Dwyer and Sutherland also hosted a weekly radio show allowing residents to call in with their questions and concerns related to the virus.
The efforts paid off for this COVID team who treated their assignment as a 24/7 job. The community has yet to report a single COVID-19 case.
“Everybody followed protocol there I was just so proud of them,” says Dwyer who returned home in peace knowing Keeywaywin residents are now equipped to fight the pandemic.
Dwyer has switched out of her nursing gown and is back to fighting cases in the southern Ontario courtrooms. However, she says the short time she spent in Keeywaywin First Nation has taught her priceless life lessons.
“Living in this community causes you to pause, reflect and treat each other and the world with respect. They live their lives richly and their success is measured with family.”