After realizing she wanted to work in the medical field, Shannon Wood (Nursing ’16) had envisioned herself within the walls of a hospital, serving in the emergency room. Fast-forward to March 2020, and Shannon found herself caring for the critically ill in Samaritan’s Purse Emergency Field Hospital in the ICU (intensive care unit) in Cremona, Italy—a hotspot amidst a pandemic.
“The Cremona hospital was completely overwhelmed with patients,” Shannon said. “Samaritan’s Purse stepped in to shoulder some of that burden and help the hospital while sharing the hope of Jesus with that community.”
Since August 2018, Shannon has been part of Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)—a team of on-call professionals who respond to disasters around the world. Since then, she has been deployed with the team four times to treat others at the southern U.S. border and in the Bahamas, Iraq, and most recently, Italy. “I did not think I had enough experience or skills to join DART, until another DART nurse that I met convinced me to apply,” she said.
Before the spread of COVID-19, God prepared Shannon with the tools she needed as she cared for patients with the illness. For nearly four years prior, she had been gaining experience in the ICU, which included treating respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and influenza. “I could go on with all the various ways God has opened doors or changed my path in life. Through it all, I continually realize His plans are infinitely better than any plans I can make,” she said.
As she worked with COVID-19 patients in the ICU, Shannon longed to let Jesus shine through her work and attentiveness, especially through the language and safety barriers in place. “Our patients could only see our eyes. The rest of our faces and bodies were covered up with masks, face shields, and gowns. We could not even touch our patients without gloved hands,” she explained. “But this just made us even more intentional to share the hope and love of Jesus through our smiling eyes and gentle touch and kind words. We prayed every day that our patients would feel and know the peace and love of Christ through us, despite the PPE (personal protective equipment).”
Some hardships Shannon faced when treating her patients were the separation they experienced while being isolated and the heartache she felt when some passed. In those moments, she found comfort in her colleagues’ encouragement, choosing to continue to love her patients rather than be calloused by loss. “We ended up being our patients’ ‘family.’ We were the ones to hold their hands when they were scared. We were the ones to tell them it was going to be okay. We were the ones who got to love them, encourage them, and comfort them,” she said. “It was very special—something I cannot fully put into words.”
Between the team’s swift arrival mid-March and their final patient discharge early May, Samaritan’s Purse treated over 280 patients in its Emergency Field Hospital, with 30 of those patients staying in the ICU. “It was so exciting to see God prepare me with the medical skills needed to treat a horrible respiratory disease like COVID-19,” Shannon continued. “I have always loved helping people when they need it most. That is why I became an ICU nurse in the first place—to help people in their darkest moments and to walk beside them in their suffering.”
Disaster relief with Samaritan’s Purse has allowed Shannon to bring care and hope to some of the most broken parts and helpless people of the world, but it was after she took biology in tenth grade that Shannon considered going into the medical field. She instantly became fascinated with human anatomy and physiology. “Combining that deep curiosity about medicine with my desire to help other people, nursing was a natural decision for me,” she said. “I had no plan B. Nothing else made sense.”
Shannon, who lived in Wisconsin and appreciated the warmer Pensacola climate, chose to attend PCC for the affordable Christian education and the kind spirit on campus. “I can remember countless times that my classmates and professors cheered for me and told me not to give up during nursing school. They always pointed me back to Jesus as my source of strength and ability to keep going. That is one thing that makes attending a Christian college so special,” she said. “I loved PCC’s major emphasis on missions throughout my years there. God used this to keep a burden for the world on my heart.”
After observing her as she trained in a hospital setting, Shannon’s preceptor suggested that the ICU would fit her skill set better. “During my senior year, I took my Advanced Medical-Surgical Nursing class (NU 407). This was basically an ICU-specific course. It prepared me for starting directly into the ICU by giving me a solid foundation for the extensive knowledge that needs to be learned in the ICU,” Shannon explained. “People told me I needed to get experience as a floor nurse before doing ICU nursing, but God opened the doors for me to start in the ICU as a new graduate.”
“Being part of DART is my greatest joy and wildest dream. There is nothing more exciting than being in the center of God’s will doing the things that, in His timing, He has prepared for me to do,” Shannon said, citing Ephesians 2:10, which reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
“This is what we should live our lives for: doing the good works that God has prepared for us. There is nothing more fulfilling and exciting than that,” she continued. “Choose to focus on the ways God is moving, not on the ways this virus is destroying. It is our choice.”
As for what keeps her going, Shannon’s heart is revealed in Psalm 91, one of the few references she wore taped to her back as she treated her patients: “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.”