Caring on the COVID-19 front lines: “I led the charge to help get personal protective gear to hospitals in Wuhan”
When Wang Donghua was tapped to hand-deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies to healthcare facilities at the outset of the outbreak in Wuhan, he didn’t think twice. His wife happened to be one of those nurses on the front lines.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the globe, one group of people can most certainly be hailed as heroes: the nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers who have remained steadfast in their oath to help care for those who’ve become sick with the virus.
Johnson & Johnson has, in turn, remained steadfast in its oath to never stop supporting healthcare workers—starting at the very outset of the outbreak.
When it became clear just how serious the situation was in China, Johnson & Johnson took early action in January and donated RMB 1 million (the currency of China) to the Chinese Red Cross Foundation for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers in Wuhan, becoming one of the first multinational companies to do so.
The Johnson & Johnson family of companies also coordinated a wide array of donations—including company products, as well as globally sourced protective equipment—across key areas in China affected by the pandemic, including Wuhan.
One employee, in particular, went above and beyond to help get those crucial supplies to the frontline healthcare workers who needed it most.
In the latest installment in our “Caring on the COVID-19 Front Lines” series of profiles of admirable employees, we sat down with Wang Donghua—an 18-year veteran at Johnson & Johnson China, where he’s a Senior Strategic Account Manager for medical devices—to learn more about his instrumental role in coordinating Johnson & Johnson’s donation efforts in Wuhan, where he lives with his family.
Wang Donghua: On January 22, at 8 PM, three nights before the Chinese New Year festival—China’s biggest holiday, when everything shuts down and everyone celebrates with their families—I received an email from Will Song, Chairman of Johnson & Johnson China.
It said: I hope you and your family are doing well in Wuhan. I’ve heard that hospitals are urgently in need of protective gear. We’re closely monitoring the situation and want to see how we can better support frontline healthcare workers in the face of the virus. Can you help keep a close look at conditions on the ground?
I took this request seriously. Because my job requires me to build partnerships with hospitals in Wuhan, I’ve been able to create close working relationships with them over the years, which helped me communicate with them quickly.
The very next day, the city was put on lockdown.
In the weeks that followed, I learned about the products and donated PPE that needed to reach healthcare workers, and after speaking with my boss and colleagues in Wuhan, I decided I would be the person to help get them there.
My wife is the head nurse in the respiratory and critical care department of one of the hospitals here in Wuhan. I felt that if she and her fellow medical workers were so willing to leave their homes to fight the virus, we should help out too.
Navigating a city on lockdown
We all know how crucial protective gear is for frontline healthcare workers—the challenge was figuring out how to get it to the hospitals.
Back then, people were scared to go outside. It was hard to find volunteers to help with the deliveries, because people had families at home and even if they felt comfortable leaving them, their compounds were closed off and they couldn’t get out. And if they could get out, they worried they’d get in trouble for leaving their homes.
I ultimately assembled a volunteer team of 12 people and spent a lot of time explaining to them how to stay safe while delivering PPE. I knew that if I correctly protected myself with a mask and socially distanced from others, if I controlled my interactions and drove in a car by myself, I would be taking proper precautions to be safe.
I told my team that, compared to the medical workers on the front lines, we were likely at lower risk. My wife is the head nurse in the respiratory and critical care department of one of the hospitals here in Wuhan. I felt that if she and her fellow medical workers were so willing to leave their homes to fight the virus, we should help out too. So many medical workers came to Wuhan to help out, how could we just stay at home?
Now I feel it was very brave of us. But at the time, I just thought, We should do this. I threw myself into the work.
When I dropped off donations at hospitals, the doctors were so moved, because so many people were reluctant to go near the hospitals unless they absolutely had to.
Every day, I went to the hospitals to communicate with medical workers. I was afraid of infecting my son, so I wore a mask all the time. Every night, we’d do a video call with his mom.
Helping out hospitals by day—and loved ones by night
My wife was working at the hospital on the front lines and stayed in a hotel the whole time to prevent us from getting infected.
There was just so much to do each day. I had to care for my 82-year-old mom and my 11-year-old son. My mom lives on her own, so I would drop off vegetables and cook for her, and then come home to cook for my son. I had never prepared meals before so I also had to learn how to cook.
Getting food was really difficult. You could only do it through neighborhood group-buys, since the markets and shops were all closed. There was a month where we had no meat to eat. My son was very understanding. He calls his mom a superwoman, and encouraged me to step up to help out! He told me, “Just leave me with some instant noodles. As long as you make me some fried potatoes every once in a while, I’ll be OK.”
Every day, I went to the hospitals to communicate with medical workers. Sometimes I even had to use a shared bike to get the donations to hospitals because of travel restrictions. I was afraid of infecting my son, so I wore a mask all the time. Every night, we’d do a video call with his mom. On Valentine’s Day, we went to visit her. I took a photo of them meeting in the parking lot of the hospital where she works. They both wore masks and stood a meter apart, unable to hug.
My wife finally came home on March 25, but on April 12, she was once again assigned to work on the COVID-19 ward at a local hospital. I don’t know when she’ll be home again. The city lockdown ended on April 8 and people can leave their homes now, but to be honest we are all being cautious about getting back to normal.
It was a hard couple of months, but I have no regrets. I think a person’s value comes from how many people they help.