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June 22, 2020

Profiles

The Champs of Summer 2020: David and Chris Shunkwiler

Profiles

June 22, 2020

Coming from a tight-knit and caring family, Christopher and David Shunkwiler had always found time to get together.

But for the first time in a long time, they found themselves separated. It wasn’t because of summer vacations, busy schedules, or growing families. It was for their own safety—and the safety of their loved ones. Suddenly, David and Chris were two brothers thrust onto the frontlines of a global pandemic.

David has been a nurse in the ICU at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for nearly 10 years. Chris is a produce associate at Westborn Market in Dearborn. Both were serving their communities the same way they have for years when everything changed.

“It seemed not to be serious at first, but then it all happened so fast,” David recalls. In the ICU, plans, recommendations and procedures changed from day to day to adapt to new information about the coronavirus and the influx of patients. The struggle to stay organized in the chaos hit hard. Wrangling with PPE—or the lack of it—became an everyday challenge. “It was kind of scary when they were telling us we might not have enough masks, gloves, gowns.” They used what they could to keep everyone safe. “I don’t know where they found some of these gowns,” he laughs.

For Chris, adapting to the new rules and regulations during the initial rush was something he’ll never forget. He picked up shifts for those who couldn’t work, helping wave after wave of guests while keeping them as safe as possible. Simply looking around the store spoke volumes. Masks, gloves, plexiglass shields and screens abounded—but what struck him most was the look of fear. “Everyone that came in was scared, nervous. If you just looked at someone, it felt like they were going to get sick.’”

Because they served their communities at such vital touchpoints, they worried that they might bring the virus home to their families. They followed social distancing guidelines strictly, staying apart—and they soon learned that no matter the circumstances, distance is no match for the strength of the human spirit.

The brothers are effusive in describing the outpouring of support they received, both from family and complete strangers. “Everyone stepped up, bringing us masks, gloves, whatever kind of PPE we needed. People were bringing us food all the time, sending care packages,” says David. “It lifted everyone’s spirits.”

Friends and family called with words of encouragement, checking in when they couldn’t be there in person. Chris recalls with admiration a regular customer who came into the market early on with 40 handmade masks, passing them out to the employees. “She wanted to contribute however she could.” The brothers find hope and optimism in the sight of everyone rallying to do their part. “It was cool to see how much people were willing to give,” David says.

When asked who their own personal Champs are, the brothers point straight to their parents, both of whom are nurses. “Dad was always right there at the front door with the [disinfectant wipes],” laughs Chris. As the dean of nursing at Henry Ford College’s School of Health and Human Services, Dr. Susan Shunkwiler was coordinating virtual learning for nursing students in this crucial time in their careers—all while still looking out for Chris and David, even dropping off cookies and food. Chris also shouted out to the Westborn Market managers. “We were working 6 or 7 days a week for two months,” coordinating to make sure guests could get what they needed to stay healthy.

Through it all, the brothers maintain that they are “just doing their jobs”—it just so happens that they’re doing them during a global pandemic. While they’re in the spotlight for being two of our Champs of Summer 2020, they want to generate support for the Henry Ford College Student Nurse Association, for the incredible adapting, learning, and donating they’ve done since the beginning of the pandemic.

Chris and David’s humility, determination, and willingness to roll up their sleeves and get the job done are why we’re honored to call them Champs.

This interview is part of a series highlighting everyday Americans who have risen extraordinarily to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic—the Champs of Summer 2020. As a thank-you to the essential workers on the front line, we’re building our limited-edition Champ Detrola as a gift of gratitude. Proceeds go to the Healthcare Workers Fund in partnership with the Community Foundation for Southwest Michigan. Learn more about the Champ and how you can help here.

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