Inspiration Behind Phone Charger Drive for COVID-19 Patients Released from ICU

A San Diego family was nearly cut off from communicating with their grandfather in Florida because of a dead phone battery, and since then they've been making sure isolated patients can stay connected with their loved ones no matter what

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A grandfather to a San Diego family who was fighting the coronavirus alone in a Florida ICU was cut off from his loved ones when his cell phone battery hit 0%. Luckily, he didn't lose all of his own energy and earned himself a release from the ICU Thursday.

The heartbreaking communication gap wasn't all for not, as it sparked a heartwarming act of kindness by hospital workers treating the man and inspired his family back in San Diego to start an online fundraiser to stock cell phone chargers in ICU's across the country.

Here's the story from April 16:

NBC 7's Monica Dean introduces to a San Diego family who knows how valuable phone chargers can be for coronavirus patients in isolation.

We’re all aware of the trouble hospitals across the country are having trying to gather personal protective equipment for workers and patients, but there is another piece of life-giving equipment that hospitals are lacking. 

It's a simple piece of technology that connects patients to their loved ones during what could be, for patients battling the coronavirus, their final moments spent alone: A cell phone charger.

The need was realized by a San Diego family trying to send heartfelt messages and words of encouragement to their grandfather fighting off the disease by his lonesome in a Florida intensive care unit.

We love you Dad, so much. You're fighting so hard and we are just so proud of you and you just keep fighting. We're going to get you out of there soon, OK?

A family message to Dr. Steve Hefler

His name is Dr. Steve Hefler. He’s a Navy veteran and a pediatrician. He’s been on a ventilator for two weeks in total isolation and not even his wife can visit. But his family says hearing familiar voices telling him to fight has helped keep him alive.

All of us love you and we hope you get better, please get better I need you I love you.

A family message to Dr. Steve Hefler

But the ability to deliver these messages almost didn't happen.

"His phone actually died 48 hours into being in the hospital,” explained Dr. Hefler's daughter-in-law Maren Hefler.

"An angel of a nurse said, ‘You know what? I have an extra charger at home.’ It's hot pink. We don't care, we'll take anything,” Dr. Hefler’s son Jon said.

While Dr. Hefler’s family is trying their hardest to give him all the support they can from a distance, they’ve also made it their mission to make sure patients in any ICU don't die alone, sequestered from their loved ones.

Photos: San Diego Family Fundraising for Phone Chargers so COVID-19 Patients Don’t Suffer Alone

“On the first night when they said say goodbye, we said 'No. Fight, dad. Fight,' and he fought,” his son said.

"We're believers that every single time we talk to him, we are making a difference,” Maren Hefler said.

Jon and Maren can’t possibly put a value on the phone charger donated by that nurse, and they say getting more of them inside ICU’s is critical.

If they don't get that charger they will literally be in the fight of their lives by themselves.

Jon Hefler

That’s what led them to start a GoFundMe campaign to send charging cords to hospitals across the country. They're asking others to pitch in what they can.

"Right now it's just about us reaching out to enough hospitals and raising enough awareness so that all of the people who are stuck in ICUs aren’t fighting or dying alone just because their cell phone ran out of charge. It's 2020, this is America. How is this a thing?" Jon said.

Although Jon, Maren, and the rest of Dr. Helfer’s family can't be there at his bedside, “angel” font line workers are helping them relay their messages of hope through modern technology. 

Here’s video of a group of hospital workers praying, and singing, through masks and face shields, Dr. Hefler’s favorite song, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

The Hefler family said so far they've delivered 1,000 chargers to hospitals across the country. If you would like to donate to their effort to help get patients connected to loved ones, click here.

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