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History education major on the WNY frontlines fighting COVID-19

Posted at 12:19 AM, May 01, 2020

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Travis Zielinski has three more semesters at Buffalo State College until he becomes a social studies teacher. His “to do” list color-coordinated to ensure he gets everything done.

“I have everything planned out perfectly or it won’t work,” he said on a FaceTime call.

It won’t work because he’s also balancing another job. It’s one on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I signed up to work at St. Joe’s to help so to stop helping at St. Joe’s when the need it the most, than what’s the point?” Zielinski said.

The 24-year-old works three eight hour shifts a week at the Catholic Health COVID-19 Treatment Facility at St. Joseph’s Campus in Cheektowaga as a nursing assistant. He tends to patients fighting for their lives.

“What a change going from like I cut my finger to I’m on a ventilator,” Zielinski said. He continued, “It’s something you never imagine to see.“

From names and heart rates to dogs and the buffalo bills, Zielinski said everything they need to know about a patient is written on the window.

“We take on the role of obviously their caregiver, but also their family,” he said.

Zielinski added what’s happening is simply disheartening and emotionally draining.

“It’s really something you can’t explain. You don’t expect to see death in such large quantity,” he said.

But what makes it worth it is when he hears the songs “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” or “Livin’ On A Prayer” because that’s means someone is going home.

“The nurses will cry. They’ll cry, but we’re in PPE so like our goggles are all fogged up, so now we have to go undo it. It’s a mess, but it’s beautiful, it’s wonderful,” he said.

The Hamburg native started this job back when he was a nursing major years ago and continued even after switching majors because he loves his colleagues. It’s also the same job he questioned continuing as news set in St. Joseph’s would become a COVID-only hospital.

“There’s been a lot of people who have opted out, so if everybody keeps opting out, there’s going to be no one. It just doesn’t sit right with me. I think it’s something I have to do,” he said.

From the poster on the fence bordering St. Joe’s parking lot to the shout out from more than 200 fellow frontline workers last week, Zielinski says thank you.

The sign in front of St. Joseph’s reads: faith, hope and love. It's also the three things Zielinski says he plans on continuing to do for as long as the hospital needs him.