LEE COUNTY — It’s been exactly one year since the first patient at Lee Health died of COVID-19.
The hospital system remembered that patient, Jermaine Ferro, and also honored its staff Friday in a ceremony at Gulf Coast Medical Center.
Ferro’s husband Salvatore was at the ceremony. He had COVID-19 as well, and it actually put him into a coma. When he woke up, he learned his wife was gone, so on Friday, he placed a ceremonial flower in her honor.
Ferro’s potted flower, representing Jermaine, was just one of the 595 plants, shaped like a heart, to represent every patient who has died from COVID-19 over the past year at Lee Health.
One by one, nurses, doctors, and therapists told the story of the past year.
“It was the year of all healthcare, on the same team, fighting the same fight," said one of the nurses.
We spoke with Liu Lopez, a respiratory therapist at Healthpark Medical Center. She said her biggest concern was for her son.
"I was so afraid to get him sick myself, but did I think it double? No, I was very willing to, like I have to do it, because if we don’t do it, who’s going to make it?” said Lopez.
Lee Health CEO Larry Antonucci recognized staff members like Lopez, speaking directly to them from the podium.
"You may feel that you are just doing your job, but for us, you are true heroes," said Antonucci.
For some of those staff members, just doing their job meant watching the people working next to them get sick.
"I took care of a co-worker, and she always used to ask us to tell her something good, give her hope. Unfortunately she didn’t make it, but I hope we made her proud by getting as much staff vaccinated as possible," said Nicolette Moran, a respiratory therapist at Lee Memorial Hospital.
And as Lee Health recognized all of the healthcare workers at the event, Lopez said the display should also serve as a reminder to the public that the fight isn’t over yet.
"Keep using your distance, keep decreasing the socialized big groups of people, and yes, receive the vaccine as soon as possible, because the vaccine is the only possibility that we have to save the community," said Lopez.
Lee Health also celebrated the fact that, as of Friday, more than 5,000 patients have come through its hospitals with COVID-19 and have fully recovered.