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Dedicated local dads forge deep bonds on COVID-19 frontlines

These "Dads in the ICU" find compassion, humor and friendship together at work

CLEVELAND — This is the weekend for dads to sit back, relax and enjoy Father's Day. But one group of men will have little to no time with their families. That's because they are the Dads of the ICU and on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. The hours are long, and the time with family is fleeting. 

"I'm working all night Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, so we'll have breakfast," Marty Kovach said of his plans for Father's Day. 

Marty, Chris Ladaika, Brian Letner, Tucker Illingsworth, Nick Frank and Charles Thompson are just some of the dedicated men that make up the Dads of ICU at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. These nurses are all co-workers assigned to the hospital's COVID-19 unit. Friendly and supportive before the pandemic, today a much stronger bond has been forged through adversity. 

"I think this has just kind of strengthened those bonds.  We have a lot of good people here. Not just, as you said, not just the ones on the screen, but everybody in the unit as a whole," said Nick Frank. 

"We have a lot of people that have been working together for a long time, which is awesome. All these guys I've worked with from 5 to 15 years. A great group of people, so we did have a great relationship before and I think that this experience and the way that we take care of patients has brought us closer," shared Chris Ladaika. 

And they've supported each other in their battle to keep their own families safe. Tucker Illingsworth and his wife are both exposed to COVID-19 positive patients. "Our biggest fear is bringing it home to our kids and the first thing they want to do when they see us in the morning is to come up and hug us and we have to tell them no you can't right, now," he said. 

Some of the men spent weeks distant from their families. They camped out in basements, so afraid they might infect their families.  They take extreme precautions. 

But in spite of their fears, these dads of the ICU remain committed to patient-focused compassionate care. And as we say thanks to them, they offer up their gratitude in return. 

"I think we should say thank you to Northeast Ohio. Everyone that wore a mask, donated masks or face shields for us. We've gotten catered lunches from all kinds of restaurants and families, they need a big shout out," said Chuck Thompson. 

And as for Father's Day gifts? Nick Frank was quick to piggyback off his friend Chuck Thompson. 

"Can I say one thing? Charles, thank you for throwing the shout out for free food. I hope it continues!"

As for the Dads, some will get the day off on Sunday. Brian Letner plans to spend it helping his son learn how to ride a bike. "It's been a challenge for us and it's taken a toll on him for sure. He's been on a scooter for too long. I let it go a little too long. Major dad fail," he chuckled. 

Happy Father's Day to these Dads of the ICU -- willing to stay on the frontlines for as long as it takes.

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