through thick and thin

If you were on the medical front lines of a global pandemic, who would you want nearby, day in, day out? Ask respiratory therapists Melissa Mitchell and Kelly Mellene, and they have an answer: their best friend, which is what they are to each other.

Southsiders Mitchell and Mellene met as 5-year-olds. “We went to Maple Grove Elementary School, Center Grove Middle School, Center Grove High School, Ivy Tech College, and now we work together,” Mitchell says. “We have been by each other’s side for 28 years.”

The pair worked together as respiratory therapists for 10 years, until Mitchell went back to school to become a registered nurse. Since then, she’s primarily worked in Community South’s Surgery Center, while Mellene works in Community South’s neo-natal care unit.

“She is special because she gets to work with the babies,” Mitchell says. “She is a rock star in the OB/NICU unit. Any distress calls, if a mom’s in distress, she’s kind of like the hero that comes in.”

In March, when COVID-19 shut Mitchell’s office down, she headed back to the ICU where she and Mellene were reunited on the work front. For her part, Mitchell worked 12-hour shifts three days a week, then headed home and hoped she didn’t spread the virus to her kids.

“It took me off guard,” Mitchell says. “It didn’t hit me until my first shift: This is real. These people are really sick. They’re dying.”

But the friendship helped them pull through. “(Mitchell) was always helpful and encouraging when we were short-staffed or had a heavy workload,” Mellene says. “Working with people you love makes for the best day. Her jokes and sarcasm always make me laugh, even after 27 years!”

And Mitchell, now having returned to her regular post at the Surgery Center, has brought back plenty of sage advice.

“If there’s one thing I could tell people to do, it’s to wash their hands and wear a mask,” Mitchell says. “I feel like those are still things we should do.”

— Jenny Elig