It was just a few days before Easter, Doug Corwin said, when his 32-year-old daughter, Elise, told him she was thinking about going to New York with a group of traveling nurses to help with the treatment of coronavirus patients.
Elise had been working with COVID-19 patients at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima, and she was heart-broken as she heard about the developments in an overwhelmed New York City.
“They were desperate for nurses and doctors, she told me, and wanted to know what I thought,” Doug said.
He admitted to being taken aback. After all, this was his little girl. The one who in preschool would chat it up with store clerks; the girl who played every sport in grade school, the one who was a cheerleader in high school and never turned down the opportunity to accompany her dad to Notre Dame or Cleveland Browns football games.
And, now, she wanted to go to New York City during the height of the pandemic?
“I told her, I mean obviously, I said, ‘You know I would be concerned,’” Doug recalled. “I told her I had reservations but would be supportive if she felt that strongly.”
Doug and his wife, Genean, never got to hear their daughter’s decision.
Elise had been staying at their home on Copus Road. On the Tuesday after Easter, she was scheduled to work a night shift at St. Rita’s. When Doug and Genean noticed Elise hadn’t left for work, they went to check on her. That’s when they found their daughter motionless in her bed. She had passed away.
“About three years ago, Elise developed epilepsy,” Doug said. “She had a seizure about five or six weeks ago. Every time you have a seizure, you can’t drive for six months. That’s why she was living here with us. It’s pretty hard to live on your own when you can’t drive. That night she suffered a seizure about two hours before we found her. It was too late to resuscitate. … We lost her.”
Ever since Elise was a little girl, she wanted to be in the medical field, be it a doctor or a nurse. With the many connections her family had with the medical field, it is easy to see why.
Mom and Dad met for the first time at St. Rita’s. Genean was one of the Grothause girls from Delphos. She had an older sister who was a nurse and another sister who was a respiratory therapist. Still another sister and sister-in-law are aides in a nursing home. On Doug’s side of the family, his grandmother, sister and aunt were all nurses. His mother worked nearly 35 years on the information desk at St. Rita’s.
Elise joined her mother working in the COVID-19 unit at St. Rita’s. Neither of them saw themselves as any sort of hero, but just as two nurses trying to see that those suffering received the best care possible.
Nursing was a good fit for her daughter, Genean felt. It takes a lot of compassion, and she saw that in Elise.
“As a young girl, Elise found a baby robin one time and nursed it back to health. Eventually it flew away,” Genean said. “She was always wanting to keep every animal she came across.”
While attending Xavier University, Elise twice spent spring break going on missionary trips to Jamaica, where a group of students helped build an irrigation system and health clinic.
“She always wanted to go back,” Genean said.
Elise started college at Xavier and transferred to Ohio State, where she received her nursing degree. Doug remembers well that first trip to Xavier, knowing he had to let go of his daughter as she began a life of her own. Not much could bring tears to the eyes of the former firefighter of the year with the Lima Fire Department, but that trip did.
“It was hard for me. She was so excited to begin college, and I was really having a tough time. Thank God it was a Friday, and Michael (Elise’s younger brother) had a football game that night, or I don’t know if I could have left her.”
It was that type of family bond that helped Elise get through some difficult times. She was determined not to be defined by the epilepsy or the anxiety attacks that accompanied it.
A text message Elise sent to her family is treasured by Genean. In it, Elise wrote, “I have had my struggles, physically and emotionally. But I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the five of you wonderful immediate family members in my life loving me harder when I wasn’t very lovable. It was the extreme love and not giving up on me that I was so incredibly moved and had so much gratitude for that did help pull me out and be like it’s time to be better for not only myself but for y’all. You didn’t deserve that version of me.”
On the morning of Easter Sunday, two days before her death, a message Elise posted on Facebook underscored the compassion she had for COVID-19 patients and the fulfillment and happiness she felt from being a nurse.
“Thank you to everyone who has reached out and showed their gratitude towards me for working the COVID unit and taking care of positive COVID patients,” she wrote. “While it can be mentally and physically challenging at times, I am happy to help. I’m extremely thankful for humanity as a whole. No one’s job is more or less important, we are all equal and contribute to society in some way, shape or form.
“Seeing people stepping up, making donations, making masks, medical supplies, donating blood or plasma, making signs, playing music for their neighbors, handing out hand sanitizer and drinks for mailmen or garbage men, showing random acts of kindness or simply keeping a positive attitude, is all very helpful. The positivity and kindness really does recharge me and gives me a much needed boost on the days I feel a bit burnt out.
“Sending love and light to y’all for whatever your contribution to society has been. Big or small, it all is important. I pray that y’all stay safe and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy during this trying time. Have a fabulous Easter and make the most of it. We can’t change the circumstances, but we have 100% control over our actions & attitudes.”
The note came from the heart of Elise Corwin to the family and friends she loved.
Hers was a life well-lived.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.