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Aggies step up to help care for others during pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world in 2020 shutting down cities and disrupting countless lives, health care workers sprang into action – including two Aggies.

Emily Wang, Aggie women’s tennis head coach and a certified nursing assistant, helped cared for elderly residents at a congregate living facility in Las Cruces for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, following the cancellation of spring 2020 sports.

Meanwhile, Tiffany Autry ’10, ’13, ’18, a former Aggie softball player and nurse practitioner specializing in family medicine and dermatology in Las Cruces, El Paso and Alamogordo, signed up for a voluntary deployment that took her to the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight in Chicago.

During her nearly eight-week deployment, Autry witnessed the devastating toll of COVID-19 in a city that was once a hotspot for the disease and faced a shortage of health care workers.

“I worked with FEMA, alongside the National Guard, primarily as a nurse practitioner diagnosing, managing and treating COVID-19 patients,” says Autry, who has four NMSU degrees, including a doctorate of nursing practice. “I also worked as a registered nurse as needed on dedicated COVID-19 units. I wanted to be helpful in any way I could, so whatever role was needed at the time is what I took on for the shift.”

Although Wang did not work with individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, she provided daily care for a population of people who were at high risk for the disease, and she also served as her patients’ only form of contact during the restrictions on visitors to such facilities.

“It’s been a difficult time for everyone,” says Wang, who worked in an emergency room in Illinois for three years before becoming a collegiate tennis coach, “but it’s been a very difficult time for elderly people because they are such high risk for COVID-19.”

During the spring and summer, Wang also worked as a caregiver who assisted patients in their home, helping them with a multitude of tasks such as cooking, cleaning, showering and taking medications. She enjoyed this experience so much that she decided to continue working as a caregiver throughout the fall.

“I’ve taken away their stories and their life experiences, and I learned a lot from them,” she says of her patients.

Autry says her experience in Chicago, although difficult, was life-changing.

“If we have the courage to face fear in times of uncertainty, we can each do our part to make our mark,” she says. “We are all dealing with different aspects of COVID-19, as well as collateral damage caused by it. Courageous people carry on in the face of fear. Some people need a little extra help to carry on. If you have the opportunity to be that help for someone, be it.”

When she couldn’t be on the court with her team in spring 2020, Aggie women’s tennis head coach Emily Wang helped care for elderly patients in Las Cruces.

Tiffany Autry spent nearly eight weeks in Chicago, where she worked with FEMA and the National Guard as a nurse practitioner diagnosing, managing and treating COVID-19 patients.