Savannah Stuard labors on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Her work involves 12-hour shifts, head-to-toe protective gear, and constant caution against catching or spreading the disease. The situation is even more complicated for Stuard, who was born without a left forearm.
Growing up, Stuard dreamed of working in healthcare. Now just two years out of medical school, she works at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. As a respiratory therapist, she operates ventilators to help people breathe. Sometimes she must pump air into a patient’s lungs by squeezing a rubber balloon-like device over and over.
“I don’t have two hands, only the one,” she says, discussing her challenges. “It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to do things within the medical field.”
Working in a sterile setting is difficult too. Stuard keeps the end of her left arm covered with an inverted glove secured by tape. “I don’t need the fingers. So, I turn the glove inside out so it looks like a sock,” she says.
Stuard regularly mentors young people with limb differences to share how she learned to do things like tie her shoes, participate in gymnastics and other sports, and learn karate.
She also shares her experiences with patients who have lost limbs. “They’ll say, ‘I lost my leg in a car accident, and you just give me so much hope,’” Stuard says. “That’s what I love to hear, and that’s what I strive [for]—to help people to be better, because they see someone that has less and doing more, and it makes them feel like they can do more.”
Stuard’s story caught the attention of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He works with front-line medical personnel to provide healthcare in underserved communities.
Brees noted Stuard’s efforts as part of his work with The Real Heroes Project, a forum for athletes to share thank-you messages to healthcare workers on social media.
“He wrote my name on the back of his jersey and said, ‘This is for you, the real hero,’ and he was just thanking me for what I was doing,” Stuard says.
For Stuard, the best part is inspiring others. “Most patients see me, and they’re like, ‘Whoa,’” she says. “I think when they see me, it gives them a little bit of hope and inspires them to do better.”