Group helping COVID-19 patients use technology to keep in touch with loved ones

Group helping COVID-19 patients use technology to keep in touch with loved ones

ATLANTA — It’s become one of the worst things about this pandemic. COVID-19 patients dying alone in hospitals and are unable to share a final moment with loved ones due to strict no-visitor policies put in place to help stop the spread of the virus.

Jennifer Rickles lost her 89-year-old mother, Margie Ulman, to the virus in late March.

“I just know my mother would’ve loved to have to said goodbye to everyone,” said Rickles.

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Rickles said three days before her mother died, the former research biologist-turned-Realtor came down with a fever and became disoriented before she was rushed to Emory University Hospital in midtown Atlanta, where she died March 26.

Rickles believes her mother was one of the first 50 Georgians to die from the virus. Before her death, Ulman was the proud mother of two children and loved being a grandmother to her six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

While many other metro Atlanta families have been forced to endure the heart-wrenching pain of being separated from loved ones in their final moments, Jennifer Rickles and her husband, Harvey Rickles, got the opportunity to say goodbye to Ulman through the use of technology when Ulman’s doctor, Joanne Gould Kuntz M.D., gave her a tablet so that she could communicate with her family before her death.

“She looked as beautiful as she has looked, and she was as eloquent in her delivery in all her messages,” remembered Jennifer Rickles.

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“It was really good because we had people spread out all over the place, and everybody was able to attend a Zoom call,” said Harvey Rickles.

Situations like these became the driving force behind COVID Tech Connect, a nonprofit founded by six women with ties to the tech world.

“A few of us had received emails or text messages from nurses or other hospital staff we knew, describing this problem of people being isolated,” said Anjali Kumar. “Just the idea was heartbreaking to so many of us, and we realized that this was something that could be solved using technology.”

Kumar is one of the six women who helped to create the New York-based nonprofit. Its mission is to raise enough money to supply hospitals with free tablets for patients to connect with their families.

On April 1, the group created a GoFundMe page. And within the first week, it raised $50,000. Since then, donations have been pouring in. As of Tuesday evening, more than $226,000 had been raised. It also received generous donations from tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

“We were lucky enough to receive a larger donation both from Google and an anonymous donor that put us over $4 million, and now we have a goal of donating about 16,000 tablets to hospitals around the country,” Kumar added.

Some of those tablets are already in the hands of Georgians at 14 different hospitals and senior care facilities across the state. Emory Hospital System and Grady Hospital are among some of the facilities that have reached out to COVID Tech Connect during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for COVID Tech Connect told Channel 2 Action News that 6,282 devices have been sent to nearly 500 different facilities (hospital, hospice centers and senior care facilities) across the country.

“I wish that everyone had that opportunity,” added Jennifer Rickles. “This is just a unique time. It pulls families apart.”

COVID Tech Connect is no longer accepting donations, but it still needs help connecting with hospitals in need of tablets. If you will like to help make that connection, you’re asked to contact the group at covidtechconnect.com.

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