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Alazia Greaves

Performing Under Pressure: Moniteau standout athlete brings intensity to nursing

Alazia Greaves interlocked her fingers and began compressions.

Adrenalin rushed through her veins.

Her patient's heart had stopped for the second time in only a few hours and Greaves, a registered nurse at UPMC Jameson in New Castle and fresh off passing her boards, was doing everything she could to keep the woman alive.

“You just become so focused and in 'nurse mode,'” Greaves said. “It's like calm, organized chaos.”

Greaves, a 2017 Moniteau High School graduate and a senior at Westminster College, is no stranger to performing under pressure.

She's done it for as long as she can remember.

In school.

In sports.

In her daily life.

She's been molded by adversity. Pressed and formed by challenges.

She craves it; thrives off of it.

Greaves is taking on a lot these days: a full-time job in the intensive care unit, in part tending to COVID-19 patients, a full course-load at Westminster College as she finishes up her bachelor's degree after already graduating from the Jameson School of Nursing.

And, of course, basketball.

It's an unusual trifecta, but one Greaves relishes.

“Time management,” Greaves says, chuckling, when asked how she balances it all. “Trying to sleep when I can.”

The rush of it all keeps her going

Adrenalin rush

Greaves, 21, was only a month into her job in the ICU at UPMC Jameson when she came truly under fire for the first time.

When she arrived at 7 a.m. for her shift, she said she knew it was going to be a day unlike any other.

“There was a crash cart in the room, so I knew something bad was happening,” Greaves said.

Her patient's heart had stopped on the operating table the night before while undergoing a bowel resection.

“By 8 a.m., we lost a pulse and blood pressure,” Greaves said. “It was a bloody mess.”

Greaves and the medical staff at Jameson, however, saved the woman's life.

It was one of the reasons why Greaves wanted to become a nurse to begin with — to help others.

“It's intense at times,” Greaves said. “Coming from not having much experience in a hospital, it's a lot of learning. I do love it, though. I learn something every day. Twelve hour shifts — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it.”

Greaves was originally drawn to the medical field because of personal tragedy.

Her mother, Nora Dessicino, was diagnosed with cervical cancer when Alazia was 12 years old.

Dessicino also suffered three miscarriages and nearly died from sepsis after hemorrhaging internally for three days.

Dessicino has since recovered and has been in remission for eight years.

Her battle, though, inspired her daughter.

“She's literally amazing,” Dessicino said. “With her studies, playing basketball, working, juggling all that — she impresses me every day. I'm in awe.

“Alazia is such an amazing, driven young woman,” she added. “She's everything I dreamed of her being without putting it on her.”

Greaves considered becoming an oncology nurse, but when she began her clinical rotations, Greaves was exposed to the myriad of jobs within the field.

“There were more than I thought there were,” she said.

Greaves was particularly enamored with the work she did in the emergency room and the ICU.

“I love the intense environments,” Greaves said. “I love the adrenalin rush.”

It's a trait that has helped make her a standout basketball player, first at Moniteau, where she left with more than 1,000 career points, and then at Westminster, where she was just named to the school's all-decade team.

“There is a correlation there,” Greaves said. “Being in a tight game, last seconds, at the free-throw line. The adrenalin rush is similar.”

Only in the ICU, Greaves can't afford to miss a free throw.

She has to shoot 100 percent.

All the time.

“That's the ultimate pressure,” she said. “Taking care of intubated patients, taking care of COVID patients, surgical patients, respiratory and heart failure patients.”

Greaves is tested for COVID-19 each week as a member of the basketball team at Westminster College.

At the hospital, they take extreme precautions when they care for individuals infected with the coronavirus.

“We have to wear our N-95s, goggles, all that,” Greaves said.

'Alazia and Her Patients'

Even though Greaves is a registered nurse, she is still a full-time student at Westminster, wrapping up her bachelor's degree.

It allows her to play her senior season for the Titans women's basketball team.

Last year, Greaves averaged 10.3 points per game and hit a team-leading 32 3-pointers.

She also played standout defense, something she was known for in her four years as a starter at Moniteau.

Greaves received a pleasant surprise recently when she was picked for the Westminster College women's basketball all-decade team.

“I've been playing basketball forever now — since I was 8 — so just seeing I've made it on to that type of team and seeing how I've developed as a player, it's kind of crazy and validating,” she said.

Greaves has been dealing with COVID-19 at work at UPMC Jameson and also as a basketball player in college.

Because of the pandemic, the team has been split up into “pods” of six players who can only work out and interact with each other to limit the risk of spread of the virus.

Greaves, one of only two seniors on the team, is the unquestioned leader of her pod.

“We all have pod names,” Greaves said. “Because I'm a nurse, mine is 'Alazia and Her Patients. I have a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen.”

It's been challenging; they are not even permitted to play 2-on-2 at practice.

“We have a lot of restrictions on campus. It's a lot of individual work,” Greaves said. “A lot of lifting weights and conditioning. Some on-court work.”

Greaves' biggest opponent right now is time.

She may have to tackle another time challenge once the season begins.

Her 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift potentially leaves little time for her to get to games.

“Yeah, I'm not quite sure how that is going to work,” Greaves said, chuckling. “I may have to change out of my scrubs and into my uniform right there on the court.”

Greaves, though, wouldn't trade any of it.

“No regrets at all,” she said. “I want to continue to grow and hopefully go to a Level 1 hospital somewhere and go into trauma.”

The more pressure the better.

Just like she likes it.

“Like I said,” Greaves says, “ I love the rush.”