By Michael Haederle

Gift of Gab

Donated Computer Tablets Will Enable Patients at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center to Communicate With Loved Ones

It all started just before Thanksgiving, when Henry Vallo and his wife, Karin, both tested positive for COVID-19.

Karin quickly recovered, but Henry’s oxygen levels plummeted and he had to be admitted to UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC). Within a few days, the 79-year-old was on a ventilator in the ICU.

Due to the hospital’s no-visitor policy, Henry’s wife and children couldn’t be with him. But they could see him and speak to him thanks to the ICU nurses, who used their own iPhones to connect the family.

“Even when he was intubated and in a drug-induced coma, we knew he could hear us,” Karin says. “The nurses were kind enough to use their own iPhones to communicate with us. That was well beyond what they were paid to do.”

Henry spent 54 days in the hospital, including nine on a ventilator, and is now continuing his recovery at home. But his family, grateful for the care and generosity of SRMC’s nurses, raised money to donate computer tablets to the hospital so that future patients can stay connected with their loved ones.

The online fundraising effort garnered more than $3,000 from 57 donors, and Computer Corner, the local business supplying the tablets, committed to matching that. Twenty-four Samsung Galaxy tablets were presented to the hospital on Saturday.

“We are humbled and grateful to the Vallo family and Computer Corner for this very generous gift to the organization,” said Jamie Silva-Steele, RN, MBA, SRMC’s president and CEO. “We were able to secure devices earlier in the pandemic to help patients communicate with their families, but the most recent surge proved that we did not have enough on hand to meet extreme patient volumes. This donation will ensure all inpatients will have this capability moving forward.”

The Vallos, married for 54 years, have three children, 12 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. Daughter Heidi Roibal took the lead in spearheading a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the tablets.

Her father, a retired contractor and acclaimed silversmith, is an Acoma Pueblo tribal member – and the family’s patriarch. “A lot of our culture comes through oral storytelling,” she says. “There was a missing piece when he was hospitalized.”

Henry could take calls on his flip phone when he first got to the hospital. But then he misplaced one of his hearing aids when he was transferred to the ICU, and there was only a single iPad available for patients in the entire unit.

“There were so many issues with just being able to communicate, so when one of the nurses offered to do a Zoom it was a godsend,” Roibal says. “Those nurses are absolute angels.”

Via Zoom, family members played videos for Henry as he recovered. “That was the pivot for him, I truly believe,” Roibal says. “It gave him the encouragement and inspiration to get better.”

As Roibal’s fundraising campaign exceeded its initial goal of $2,000, she decided to reach out to a local computer supplier to help support New Mexico businesses.

Brian Fletcher, who with his wife Kathryn completed the purchase of Computer Corner from its previous owners on February 1, wanted to help. “I told the family we would be happy to match what they were able to raise through the GoFundMe account,” he says.

Fletcher is also co-owner of FootPrints Home Care, which maintains a 501(c)3 nonprofit benevolent fund supported by the company’s owners and employees. The fund contributed $3,000, while Computer Corner salesman William “Dusty” Dial volunteered to give up his commission.

“We were able to give them a very good deal,” Fletcher says. “We cut our margins to the bone.” Going forward, he says, he hopes to help distribute tablets to other hospitals and senior care facilities around the state.

Categories: Community Engagement, Health, Top Stories