Nurse Elizabeth Melado, along with her co-workers at New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland, appreciate the homemade protective masks sent to them by a group of volunteer crafters based out of Allagash. The masks provide some protection for the health care specialists as coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Melado

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EAGLE LAKE, Maine — Most people think the most difficult thing for health care professionals potentially dealing with COVID-19 patients is the personal risks to their own health. For health care professionals who are parents, there is a greater fear — how to keep their children safe.

For one registered nurse, the answer was loving grandparents who live 300 miles away.

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Elizabeth Melado, a 28-year-old certified rehabilitation registered nurse at New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland, decided to separate herself from her child to keep from bringing the virus home to him from work.

Melado, a University of Maine at Fort Kent graduate, and her husband Orlando Melado are the parents of 2-year-old Malachi Melado. The Melado family lives in Hollis, but Malachi has temporarily moved in with his maternal grandparents, Suzanne and Ronald Morneault in Eagle Lake in Aroostook County.

“Being away from Malachi is definitely the hardest thing emotionally because not only are he and I best friends, but watching my husband Orlando and him play when they are together brings me so much joy,” Elizabeth Melado said.

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Orlando Melado, 30, works from home as a financial analyst at WEX in Portland. He enjoys daily Facetime and phone sessions with his son.

“Orlando tells Malachi every day ‘you’re born to be great’,” Suzanne Morneault said.

Elizabeth Melado was a junior in high school on a mission trip to Guyana when she felt the calling to become a nurse. There she met an 11-year-old girl who was suffering from the effects of untreated Type 1 diabetes.

“It hit me so hard that we take health care in the United States for granted. This girl was close to dying from a disease that we treat with ease,” Melado said.

Her calling to help others in need has not waned.

“Especially right now where patients are not allowed to have any visitors, we — their caregivers — are the closest thing they have to a support system and I treat every patient with the same love and respect that I would if I was caring for my own family members,” Melado said.

Morneault is proud of her daughter’s dedication to her patients.

“She will go above and beyond in every situation. I pray every day for her protection but also know that sometimes God allows things different than we pray for — a greater purpose and plan we may not totally understand this side of Heaven.

“My biggest fear is that she’ll contract [COVID-19] and have to suffer alone because I will need to keep Malachi away, so I won’t be able to go and care for her,” Morneault said.

The Morneaults have seven grandchildren. In addition to Malachi, two others live with them. Malachi is adapting to his temporary living environment and enjoys playing with his cousins in northern Maine. Still, the transition has not been without challenges.

“He cried for his parents every night for maybe the first four nights,” Suzanne Morneault said. “Now he says ‘home’ and I say ‘but your vacation isn’t over.’ He must wonder why his vacation has been so long.”

The Morneault family are no strangers to life’s challenges.

In 2017 the Morneaults, along with their daughter Mindy Forino started the non-profit organization “All Things Become New” to support those suffering from brain injuries after Forino experienced a severe head injury while playing in a soccer game as a goalie for UMFK. Forino has undergone years of rehabilitation since, and she and her husband John Forino have twin daughters.

But Morneault said the good side of human nature often comes out during hardship.

She pointed to the many volunteers around the state, including an Allagash group headed by bestselling author Cathie Pelletier, who are sewing face masks to help alleviate a shortage in personal protective gear for medical workers.

Friends From Northern Maine supplied some of these masks to Melado and her colleagues at the Portland facility, and Melado said the masks have been useful.

“It really does mean a lot to the medical staff that need to be at work in order to care for those who are just trying to get back home to their families,” Melado said.

“As of right now we are using our supplies sparingly, but are not completely out of surgical masks so we are required to wear our surgical masks underneath the cloth ones,” she said.

Melado said that even though the cloth masks won’t prevent the spread of diseases as well as the regular surgical masks, they are a bit brighter during these dark times.

“The staff as well as patients are enjoying the different prints and they are making us seem a little less intimidating by hiding our surgical masks underneath,” Melado said.

Melado said that despite the risk to herself — and knowing that her son is safe with her own parents — she plans to continue caring for her patients.

“I think what keeps me going is knowing that I do not fear the virus; there is no point in letting fear of the unknown control me,” she said. “I love being a nurse and it is most definitely exactly where God wants me to be. I don’t see it as being brave, even though that is how people see nurses during this time. I see it as a job that I was meant to do.”

Watch: Maine CDC press conference, April 8

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