On Friday, April 3, speech pathologist Katie Gildea ’03, pauses from a round of home visits on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to discuss her work during the pandemic, as she continues to travel the streets and subways of New York, an essential worker in a city on lockdown. Eight-and-a-half months pregnant, Gildea takes all the pre-cautions — “and then some” — to keep herself and the people she visits safe. Motivation in the difficult circumstances comes from her commitment to patients in this neighborhood she has served for the past eleven years and solidarity with colleagues facing the same challenge. Sharing a line voiced often these days by those in healthcare and helping professions, Gildea says, “This is what we signed up for.” 

As a medical speech pathologist meeting patients in their homes, Gildea takes a role in easing the burden on over-taxed hospitals and their staffs. People recovering from strokes, often dealing with swallowing disorders, are among those she helps. In the midst of the crisis, these patients are being sent home earlier, leaving them susceptible to other health issues, particularly pneumonia. Seeing the patients in person, being sure they are following proper rehab and diet protocols, Gildea and fellow speech pathologists are helping make sure these patients aren’t re-hospitalized. 

A native of Westfield, NJ, when it came time for college she followed her brother Jim ’92 and sister Cristin ’95 in heading north to Vermont. Looking back to her days at UVM, Gildea says she found mentors in professors such as Rebecca McCauley, Barry Guitar and Patty Prelock. “I’ve always loved my work and I know that’s hard to come by,” she says. “I feel my education at UVM, and later in grad school, helped me achieve that. I’m so grateful for it.” 

That gratitude abides, even as Gildea leaves her husband, now working from home, and nearly three-year-old daughter behind in their Battery Park apartment in Lower Manhattan and heads to work in the pandemic red zone. She’s determined to keep working “until the baby makes her grand entrance,” Gildea says. And she adds, “We’ll tell her about this years from now and teach her about the importance of empathy and unity during difficult times.”


Thomas James Weaver