Front-line nurse protects his kids from COVID-19

By The Health News Team | June 19, 2020
Mike Kostelyk, a nurse at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, with his children.

Sharp Chula Vista nurse Mike Kostelyk, RN, BSN, with his kids at Shavehead Lake in Michigan.

This Father's Day, Mike Kostelyk, RN, BSN, will not get the San Elijo camping trip he was hoping for. A nurse in
Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center's emergency department, the father of four is on the front lines of San Diego's
COVID-19 pandemic — a duty he proudly serves.

"Everyone in a medical profession right now understands the stakes," Kostelyk says. "This is what we do. We take care of sick people to help stop the spread of this thing — and help our community get through it."

Back in March, when COVID-19 cases began to escalate, Kostelyk felt a lot of uncertainty for himself, his co-workers and his family.

"When this first started, it was hard to fall asleep at night. I wondered how many sick people would show up at the hospital, and if I would get sick, too. It was like nothing we'd seen before."

Kostelyk also saw that uncertainty in the eyes of his children. Like the rest of the country, his family hunkered down into quarantine, moving to distance learning and virtual friend dates. However, his role as a clinician put extra pressure on them, as his high risk of infection meant more precautions and considerably less interactions with the outside world.

adeline, Margot, Sarah, Liam, Mike and James Kostelyk

The Kostelyk before quarantine. (l-r) Madeline, Margot, Sarah, Liam, Mike and James.

"My wife is also a nurse at Sharp Grossmont Hospital," Kostelyk says. "We had to sit our kids down and explain that our chances of being exposed to the virus are higher than most people. So we, as a family, had an extra duty to be vigilant and make sure we don't spread germs to others."

At first, Kostelyk's kids had trouble with this. Before lockdowns took full effect, they would see friends on social media, interacting and enjoying life outside the walls of their homes. As the new normal took root, and they saw the role their parents played in helping others, they came to terms with the heightened isolation.

"It's been easy to talk to them about what's going on," Kostelyk says. "I understand vectors and epidemiology and disease process. I can answer their questions truthfully and frankly. They believe me, and respect my opinion."

A home free from COVID-19
Kostelyk and his wife Sarah understand their role in keeping the community safe from COVID-19. More directly, they are solely responsible for keeping their children safe from the virus. They travel back and forth to the hospital almost daily, and while they take all precautions possible, they know that they are facing sick patients.

At first, Kostelyk considered moving into the family's pop-up camper to keep himself, and any germs he picked up, away. He soon realized that taking certain precautions could allow him to remain at home without anyone getting sick.

"We have an old minivan that we don't drive," says Kostelyk. "We are holding onto it for our teenagers to learn to drive on. Today, the minivan has been named our 'COVID car,' and we use it solely for shuttling back and forth to the hospital. No kids are allowed in it."

Kostelyk and his wife have set a routine for coming home, starting with using the service entrance to their garage, removing their clothes and putting them directly into the washing machine.

"Apparently some washing machines have a 'sanitary cycle,'" he says. "I know it works, because the water is extra hot, and it takes much longer for the cycle to finish."

They then go straight to the bathroom to shower, which, ordinarily, would be an easy feat. But with a 5-year-old named Margot in the mix, getting there quickly can seem like an obstacle course. "She's at that age where she still gets excited to see us," he says. "She just wants to hug us and welcome us home. It's adorable, but we have to explain to her that we need to first wash off our day."

The Kostelyk family "COVID car"

Mike and Sarah Kostelyk have a designated kid-free "COVID car", and have a strict routine for washing up before walking into their home.

The Kostelyks have also gotten into the habit of leaving everything outside — from their shoes to their backpacks to their coffee cups. Anything they bring into their home needs to be disinfected with antibacterial soap.

"It's a completely new way to think about things," Kostelyk says. "Before COVID-19, you wouldn't think twice about washing your lunch box out before you come home. Now we have to be careful with everything we do — from where we toss our coffee cup to how and when we handle the mail."

Making their children proud
It has been months since COVID-19 first started spreading and Kostelyk no longer suffers from those early restless nights. His team at Sharp greets and treats patients every day, analyzing symptoms and addressing COVID-19 patients' needs in a way that keeps everyone as safe as possible. His family has settled into a routine, too.

"Our kids are happy to see us when we come home," says Kostelyk. "They are busy with school work and coping with this constant home life the way all kids are. When I come home, I talk to them about what I do, in a general sense. I know they're proud of me and they're proud of my wife. They wouldn't say it, of course, but I think they admire us in some ways because we're doing something important in the lives of others."

Kostelyk credits a lot of his family's resilience to their close bond and sarcastic nature. They all have laughs at each other's expense, and Kostelyk considers himself lucky that he isn't spared from their line of fire.

"That's probably my favorite thing about being their dad right now," he says. "I come home, and it all just feels so normal. I've got a lot of roommates — and they're a lot of fun."

Nurses and doctors at Sharp HealthCare are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Your contribution to the
Sharp COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund can help provide necessary resources to support the direct care of COVID-19 patients and provide personal protective equipment (PPE).

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