Director of the sole medical facility on tiny Swan's Island, Donna Wiegle is maintaining the clinic's hours despite the novel coronavirus. Credit: Courtesy of Donna Wiegle

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A stage-4 ovarian cancer patient whose doctors have told her she probably has a year to live, Donna Wiegle should probably be staying at home during the pandemic.

But as the director of the sole medical facility on tiny Swan’s Island off the southern coast of Mount Desert Island, the medical technologist is still seeing patients — drawing blood and taking patients’ vitals before they consult with medical specialists via telemedicine. Wiegle also shovels snow, keeps the appointment book and cleans the clinic.

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“This is how things are done in small communities,” Wiegle said Wednesday.

Without her there, the Mill Pond Health Center would close. And Wiegle says she doesn’t want to force her patients to take hours-long trips onto the mainland for medical appointments where they could come in contact with the novel coronavirus.

“How can you close down a health clinic during a health crisis? I have concerns for my own health and immune system, but I have been in this job for 13 years and I want to continue serving my community,” Wiegle said. “No one is forcing me to work. It is entirely my choice.”

With a year-round population of about 380 and located about six miles from the ferry dock at Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Swan’s Island is remote.

Residents are grateful for Wiegle’s service but worry for her health, said Myron Sprague, chairman of the Swan’s Island Board of Selectmen.

“She has done a great job, and we just have to rely upon her judgment,” Sprague said. “We have left the decision up to her.”

The Mill Pond Health Center is open Tuesdays for blood draws from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., with Wiegle also working at the clinic by appointment during weekdays. She has adopted safeguards to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including heightened disinfection protocols, she said.

While medical staff teleconference with patients, Wiegle performs the tasks that have to be done in person. She administers blood draws and bodily fluid collections, blood-pressure and temperature readings and other basic medical duties that typically occur within the 6-f00t social distance barrier health officials strongly recommend as the most effective block against the spread of the pandemic.

Wiegle wears gloves and a mask when serving patients. She has probably seen a dozen over the last month or so, she said.

She refuses to serve patients suspected of having COVID-19, Wiegle said.

“In the past, I have had a second person working there. She will not be coming back until the pandemic is over,” Wiegle said. “I’ve also had visiting doctors, but not right now.”

With her ovarian cancer diagnosis, the 60-year-old is among those at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus, as cancer patients are typically at greater risk of getting any infection as they often suffer from compromised immune systems. Wiegle had surgery on her chest last fall to remove a tumor, she said.

“I think my immune system is fairly good,” Wiegle said. “I haven’t been sick or on antibiotics for awhile, so I would like to think I am doing pretty well.”

Last year, she completed a cross-country motorcycle journey to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and check an item off her bucket list.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Donna Wiegle

Patients would probably need as much as five hours to take medical appointments on the mainland due to coronavirus-related cutbacks to Maine State Ferry Service trips to the island, Wiegle said.

Wiegle’s work has not gone unnoticed, Swan’s Island Administrative Assistant Karen Griffin said.

“She is very dedicated,” Griffin said. “She will serve the island for as long as she can.”

Watch: How does COVID-19 spread?