When FEMA put out a nationwide call in March 2020 looking for medical workers willing to battle COVID-19 on the front lines in New York City, Walden nursing student Anna Slayton knew she had to go. For the next three months, Slayton worked 12-hour shifts, up to seven days a week, in the COVID-19 unit of a long-term care center in lower Manhattan.
“A lot of [healthcare workers] were either witnessing neighbors and friends get sick and die, or they had to take care of their family members,” Slayton says, noting that most hospital systems were overwhelmed with patients. “There was no staff to take care of the residents. We were the relief, and we basically took over the COVID-19 floor.”
In 2016, Slayton earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at Walden while juggling her responsibilities as a wife, mother, and full-time professional. “I knew I needed to advance my career, but I wasn’t sure how to balance everything in my life while also going to class in person. Thankfully, Walden provided the ability to reach my goals.”
But just a few months after graduation, tragedy struck Slayton’s family. On New Year’s Day in 2017, her toddler son, Gavin, fell into a backyard pool and drowned. Heartbroken, Slayton felt unable to mourn her loss because she needed to be strong for her remaining children.
“Losing a child is hard no matter what the circumstances,” she says. “But I had two other babies who I still had to press on for—I feel like I needed to find my inner strength as a mother.” Now, more than three years later, Slayton says her time in the COVID-19 unit in New York City offered her a way to process her grief while serving others.
“The whole underlying part of New York was the healing that I found, both about my son and about my life,” Slayton says.
On pace to graduate with her master’s in nursing in just a few months, Slayton credits the supportive community at Walden for helping her continue her program, even as she struggled to adjust to life without Gavin.
“As I was finishing my classes with Walden, my heart just really was scared, to be honest with you,” she explains. “But my advisors and everybody at Walden have always been so supportive. Even being a mom and working full time, I’ll be able to graduate with my master’s. I’m 31 and have lived all this life because of what Walden provided and allowed for me.”
After her second Walden University graduation, Slayton plans to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse practitioner. She will be able to honor the memory of Gavin through her work, every day.
“When I was in New York, I changed my degree plan to my original track of being a family nurse practitioner so that I can take care of kids one day,” she says.