Nurse anesthesiology graduate paying it forward
In the operating room at Gulf Coast Medical Center, Johny Williamceau moves with a smooth confidence as he intubates a patient before surgery. Williamceau, 30, graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University’s master of science in nurse anesthesiology program in May 2020. Though the pandemic continues to threaten lives across Southwest Florida, Williamceau—a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) — has not slowed in his dedication on the frontlines. He’s part of the legion of ordinary people who became extraordinary in challenging times, and he demonstrates the impact of FGCU in our community.
Williamceau arrived in the United States from Haiti when he was 12 years old. He spoke just a few phrases in English. Less than 20 years later, he has a graduate degree and a job with life-and-death responsibilities. “I came from the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and now I care for people’s lives,” he says.
Throughout the pandemic, Williamceau has continued to perform in the operating room despite the risks. “There are always emergencies,” he says. “People need their appendix taken out, they have a stroke, they’re in a car crash—you can’t delay emergent surgeries.”
When he’s called to the OR, Williamceau doesn’t hesitate. Throughout the pandemic, he and his colleagues have taken careful precautions. They wear personal protective equipment that includes gowns and goggles, and they bring a heightened awareness to their procedures. For good reason: anesthesia is a practice that revolves around the airways. This is particularly worrisome when it comes to COVID-19 transmission.
Yet Williamceau says that operating in this kind of environment is second nature to CRNAs. “We’re airway experts,” he explains. “Anybody can come through the OR, positive or negative. If the case is emergent, you’ve got to do the surgery, even if they’re positive. You just take as much precaution as possible.”
This kind of dedication to the wellbeing of others has set Williamceau apart throughout his life. He’s currently working with his cousin, who is also a CRNA, to establish a healthcare-focused nonprofit in Haiti. The organization brings care to patients through mobile clinics. Last August, the group served more than a thousand people in three different parts of Haiti. Williamceau helped with the logistics on the U.S. side, including arranging to have the medical supplies shipped over by boat. He also recently started an annual soccer tournament for kids in Haiti. He was able to organize a socially distant competition in Jean-Rabel, in the northwest part of the country, where he was born. In the near future, he hopes to build a soccer complex there.
Williamceau credits his success to the role models and advisors he’s had along the way. At FGCU, that includes the faculty in the nurse anesthesiology program, particularly Dr. Rosann Spiegel, program director, Dr. Johanna Newman, the program assistant director, and Dr. Virginia Londahl-Ramsey, an assistant professor. “They’re the backbone of the anesthesia program,” he says. “When times were tough, they believed in us.”
And those tough times? Williamceau experienced plenty while earning his master’s degree. “School itself was challenging,” he admits. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” He also lost his beloved aunt while he was in the program. He says the motivation of school helped him through that difficult period.
Williamceau has been part of the FGCU story for a long time. In middle school, his class took a field trip to the university. And in high school at Lely High, Williamceau was part of a college outreach program where he was given the opportunity to stay on campus for a few days and experience college life. He spent his junior year dual-enrolled as an undergraduate at FGCU, and through the honors program he was able to participate in the organ transplant course at Mount Sinai in New York.
Now, as part of his continued efforts to give back to his community, Williamceau is working to establish a scholarship program for nurse anesthesiology students. “I’ve been so blessed,” he says. “The least I can do is pay it forward.”
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