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Wisconsin health care worker travels to Arkansas to help on the frontlines

"I can say safely, that I have seen more people die in the last 18 months, than over any period in my career," respiratory therapist Frankie Karns-Van Lieshout said.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — We've heard from countless hospitals about their staffing struggles. 

Many said they could take more patients, but unfortunately they just don't have enough manpower to do it. 

Well, one Wisconsin health care worker packed up her bags and came here to Arkansas to help out on the frontlines. 

Frankie Karns-Van Lieshout described it as a 'cyclone.'

"I've been working in healthcare for 20 years and I can say safely, that I have seen more people die in the last 18 months than over any period in my career," she said.

Like many who walk into hospitals daily, Karns-Van Lieshout went into healthcare to help people, but this year has brought a brand new set of challenges that she's never faced before. 

"It's been hard, you know, you go home some nights and you just cry," she said.

Karns-Van Lieshout has seen it all from Milwaukee to Madison to Little Rock. 

Being a part of the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS) for the VA, she is sent to different cities during their most crucial time of need. 

"It's certainly challenging, but I've been doing this job for so long that you just lean on the skills you have and lean on the things that you know," she said.

As a respiratory therapist, Karns-Van Lieshout is taking care of the sickest COVID-19 patients with only a few tools to help.

"They just sit on oxygen for months and we are just stringing them along the best we can," she said.

The hardest part for Karns-Van Lieshout is being the only person in the room when someone takes their last breathe, while their family is on the other side of a screen.

"Seeing so many people die, and more than that seeing so many of them die alone: it's something I'm going to walk around with until I die," she said. "I'll be thinking of the last 18 months for the rest of my life."

While the memories will stay with Karns-Van Lieshout forever, she has a message to everyone on the outside: take this seriously.

"If I could say anything to everyone on the planet, I would say that into a microphone and make everyone wear headphones and listen to it on repeat because it's not a joke. It's not fake, it's very much real and I wish it wasn't," she said.

Right now, Karns-Van Lieshout is one of the eight traveling health care workers helping out the VA in Little Rock. 

She will go back home to Wisconsin on Sept. 15.