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May 28, 2021

Nurse and her young kids keep their distance during health crisis

IU Health North Hospital

Nurse and her young kids keep their distance during health crisis

IU Health North emergency department nurse has lived apart from her family for several weeks to protect her boys, who have cystic fibrosis.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Sometimes the drive-by visits are the hardest.

When Kristin Johanning can’t stand another minute away from her husband and kids, she drives slowly by their Zionsville home, waving and talking to them from a distance.

They can’t get close enough to see the tears in her eyes. That is a risk the longtime nurse is not willing to take.

Kristin Johanning in the Emergency department at IU Health North Hospital

In her front-line role in the emergency department at IU Health North Hospital, she sees a lot of COVID-positive patients during her long weekend shifts. As a mother to three boys, she wants to keep them safe.

Two of her sons have cystic fibrosis and are at high risk of infection from any virus. The coronavirus is even more serious.

That’s why Johanning and her husband, Eric, decided several weeks ago that it would be best for the family if she stayed somewhere else during the outbreak. It was either that or not work, and the Johannings need her income and her insurance.

So Johanning moved into a bedroom at the home of family friends, about 15 minutes away from her husband and their three sons: Michael, 8; Ryan, 4; and Hunter, 16 months.

Michael and Hunter have CF, for which they receive treatment at Riley Hospital for Children. Ryan does not have the hereditary disease, which produces thick and sticky mucus that can clog the lungs and obstruct the pancreas.

Johanning's three children

Hunter had a rough first year, spending some time in the PICU at Riley, but both the boys are relatively healthy now, she said. And she aims to keep it that way.

“It’s obviously hard for the kids; they don’t really understand,” she said. “Michael understands germs. Social distancing really isn’t new for cystic fibrosis kids; they spend a lot of time apart. They have the six-foot rule all the time.”

But staying away from their mom isn’t something they’ve had to do in the past. It’s especially hard for the middle child, who doesn’t have the illness but is old enough to understand that his mom no longer tucks him in at night or hugs him when he is sad.

The family does a lot of FaceTiming and Zoom to ease the distance, along with phone calls and those occasional drive-bys. Eric’s parents drop off groceries at the door for him and the kids, so they don’t have to leave the house.

She knows they are going a little stir-crazy but is thankful that her husband was already a stay-at-home dad and has things well under control.

Meantime, she tries to stay productive in the long hours she spends on her own now, tackling homework as she enters the last year of her nurse practitioner program.

If she’s not working the night shift, she reads to her boys via FaceTime before they go to sleep.

“I just keep thinking military families do this a lot,” she said. “I feel like if they can do it, we can do it for a couple months.”

And hopefully, she said, “it will bring us together and make people realize that this virus is actually real. “It’s hard because most people don’t see what the virus does like we do. Hopefully, when all of this lifts, people will realize that it (social distancing) worked and it was done for a reason.”

An emergency nurse for 12 years – her first three at IU Health Methodist – Johanning said she is most grateful for the show of support from the community. The signs, the food, the love … it all helps.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “We’ll get through.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,

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