For almost a year now, they have been relieving patients’ suffering, holding hands when they die, and comforting their grieving relatives. They cheered and clapped when the lucky ones went home.
Now four New Hampshire health workers who have been on the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis are on their way to the Super Bowl – no less on the New England Patriots team plane.
The National Football League has invited 7,500 healthcare workers from across the country who have both received doses of COVID-19 vaccine to take part in the big game today [Sunday] in Tampa.
Patriot owner Robert Kraft brings 76 New England attendants to and from Florida on the team’s plane – the same plane that shipped valuable personal protective equipment to the area last year when supplies were dangerously low.
The four New Hampshire people present are Gina Teixeira, an emergency room nurse at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua; Dawn Chapman, a nurse at Concord Hospital; Jenna Osborn, an intensive care nurse at the Catholic Medical Center; and Scott Thrasher, Assistant Director of Environmental Services at Hanover Hill Health Care Center in Manchester.
After spending Saturday night at a Patriot Place hotel in Foxborough, Massachusetts, they were due to fly to Tampa at 7 a.m., where they will be guests of honor at a pre-game concert with Miley Cyrus. After the game they will be flown back to Boston and arrive early on Monday morning.
Gina Teixeira received the message from Governor Chris Sununu.
She was about two-thirds through a 12-hour shift when she was asked to report to her manager’s office. “Oh god, what have I done – or what are you going to ask me for?” she remembers thinking.
Her supervisor took her to a conference room where Sununu was on the big screen and executives from the hospital had gathered. “Would you like to go to Super Bowl LV?” asked the smiling governor.
“I was speechless,” she said. “Thank god I had my mask on because my mouth was so wide open.”
“I am incredibly honored to represent all of southern New Hampshire and all of the caregivers,” she said. “I wish I could take all of my employees with me. Each of them worked as hard as I did. “
Last year, Teixeira said, was “a roller coaster ride, both professionally and personally.”
“It’s a terrible virus, it really is,” she said.
The hardest part was watching family members drop off sick loved ones in the emergency room and not be able to come into the house with them, she said.
“These little couples have to leave their husband or wife with us without knowing if they will ever see them again,” she said. “It’s emotionally very stressful.
“I had a hard time with it. That’s why I’ve made it my goal to stay in touch with the families as much as possible. “
The hardest part
Dawn Chapman, RN, works at Concord Hospital 5 North – the respiratory station. Her family was in South Carolina last March to graduate from their son’s Marine Corps when they heard stories of the new coronavirus. Chapman assured her husband that the hospital was used to dealing with coronaviruses.
But when she returned to work she said, “It was like walking into a dream.”
“They put up walls. Everything was different, ”she remembered. “I just stood there. I was in awe. “
Her floor is an intensive care unit for ventilated patients, and everything they do has had to change in response to this new threat, she said.
“We had to go to small boot camps for training because nobody knew what to expect,” she said. “It has always changed.”
Almost a year later, she is less afraid and she and her co-workers have gotten used to this new reality. But she said: “If someone floats to our floor from another floor, he looks horrified …”
Chapman, 53, who lives in Weare, is proud of what her team has done over the past year, but it has been tough. “The hardest part is watching someone die and can’t have their family with them,” she said. “We have to step in. We have to be their families.
“We are the handholders.”
There were also success stories, Chapman said: “People who were right on the sidelines and we were able to help them turn around.”
One thing she will never forget: “Stand in the hallway and clap as they leave.”
Chapman works the night shift from 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., so she was sound asleep when the call came about the Super Bowl. Her son knocked on the bedroom door and said she had to come downstairs immediately.
“It’s an emergency,” he told her. “Dad needs you downstairs.”
“Now I’m ready to kill my husband,” she laughed. “I’m coming down and my husband is on his phone with that grin on his face.”
It was the hospital vice president who gave her a “DJ voice” to announce that she had been selected for the Super Bowl. “I started yelling,” she said.
The whole experience feels like a dream, Chapman said.
“It’s crazy exciting,” she said. “I feel like a celebrity.
“I find it amazing that we are recognized for our work.”
Endure the heartache
Jenna Osborn, the Catholic Medical Center’s intensive care nurse, said prior to the pandemic that most of her patients had recovered from surgery at the cardiac institute. But as soon as it hit, her unit became a COVID ICU.
A year ago, she said, she could not have imagined what was coming – “that in the 12 hours we are there we would be 11½ in PPE and only taking short pee breaks,” she said.
Osborn, 26, who lives in Manchester, attended Saint Anselm College for nursing. “Everything we learned there has helped me to be there for my patients and to be there only for them since they were alone.”
But it definitely takes an emotional toll, she said. “I think the hardest part of COVID is seeing these patients so sick and hoping that they will take a corner and get better. But not everyone does, ”she said.
In the end, she said, “We are the ones who hold their hands when they can’t have their families there.”
The younger patients who enter with no history of medical issues are the most shocking, Osborn said.
“You just look at how they were before and it’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “A week later, they’re intubated and sedated and just so sick.”
Osborn was selected for the Super Bowl seat because she had spent the most hours caring for COVID-19 patients in intensive care since the pandemic began.
“I had no idea,” she said.
“If this were a perfect world, everyone in my unit could of course go,” she said. “I’ll try to represent CMC and make them proud.”
Do what it takes
Scott Thrasher, 42, said before COVID-19: “My job used to be landscaping. And when that happened pretty much all hands were on deck. “
Holly Lansdale, Customer Relations Director at Hanover Hill, said it was difficult to select just one employee to travel with.
“But without a doubt Scott was such a great leader and team member during this pandemic,” she said. “Regardless of the task, Scott has always adapted to the respective needs.”
He helped manage personal protective equipment for nursing home staff. Set up a COVID-19 isolation unit, separate entrances and break rooms. and created outdoor visit plans.
When Hanover Hill became the state’s first long-term care facility to suffer a COVID-19 outbreak, Thrasher was instrumental in adjusting residents’ rooms on a daily basis to keep sick patients isolated, Lansdale said.
With all of this, he always found time to cheer up his teammates and stop by residents’ rooms for a chat, she said.
Thrasher said the loss of some of these residents was heartbreaking.
“When you see people who are fine one day and then that comes in and all it takes is people you are so used to seeing every day …” His voice broke and then fell silent.
Thrasher is a longtime fan of the Buffalo Bills, who got so close to the big game this year. He still holds a Bills season ticket.
When his manager called to tell him the news, she asked, “What are you doing for the Super Bowl?
“Well, I don’t look at the bills,” he replied.
They laughed. Then she asked, “How would you like to go?”
“I was just blown away,” he said. “It’s a great honor.”
A year of sacrifice
It’s easy to forget the sacrifices these healthcare workers have made since the onset of COVID-19.
For Thrasher, protecting the residents of his nursing home means not seeing his daughter and granddaughter in Buffalo.
When was the last time he hugged the little girl? “It’s been almost a year,” he said.
Caring for her patients meant that Teixeira was unable to take care of her 27-year-old daughter, who is paraplegic after an accident in 2014 and lives with her young daughter.
“I went a night or two a week to look after her at night,” she said.
But when the pandemic started, she had to tell her, “I can’t get there. I’m afraid I’ll give it to you. “
Teixeira said her 16-year-old son Devin took on the challenge, she said. “He’s really been of great help to his sister in my absence.”
But it meant that Teixeira was alone. More than ever, she said, her employees were her family.
Go … Bucs?
Who Are These Granite Staters Rooted In The Super Bowl For?
Osborn said she was a huge fan of the Patriots. “And I love Tom Brady even more so I’m so excited to go.”
She’s definitely cheering the Bucs. “Wherever Tom Brady is, whatever he goes, I’ll put down roots for you,” she said.
The first thing she did after finding out about the trip? “I went into a store and bought a Tom Brady Bucs shirt.”
Teixeira said she was a “big” fan of former patriot Rob Gronkowski, who now plays for Tampa Bay with former teammate Brady. She’s also excited to see “TB 12” play, she said.
And she plans to buy a Buccaneers shirt in Florida. “This is my souvenir,” she said.
Thrashers prediction? “I think Brady will win,” he said. “He is the epitome of winning. He just does it no matter what lies ahead. “
Thrasher plans to wear his Bills jersey on the Patriots plane on Sunday. It turns out he won’t be the only Buffalo fan on the trip.
Chapman was born and raised in Buffalo. He moved to New Hampshire 22 years ago. She grabbed a Bill’s shirt – the one with a nurse’s stethoscope – for the game.
“I don’t have the courage to carry my Bills gear on the plane,” she said.
But she could wear it under a sweatshirt for the game, she said. “I’m really going to be under cover.”
She’ll be interested in Tampa Bay “because they’re the underdogs”.
Plus, the Kansas City Chiefs reached the Super Bowl by beating their beloved bills. “I’m a little pissed off,” she said.