On March 11, 2020, Iredell Memorial Hospital admitted its first patient with COVID-19. It felt like the world was spiraling out of control, as people welled with fear and impending uncertainty. Since then, everyone has experienced loss — loss of family, friends, and normalcy — but also have gained insurmountable determination and strength.
One year later, on Thursday, March 11, 2021, Iredell Health System hosted a private luminary ceremony to honor the lives lost and battles won from COVID-19. Eighty-six luminaries lit up the walkway outside of Iredell Memorial Hospital, with each luminary representing 10 patients who have been hospitalized for COVID-19, including both victims and survivors.
John Green, President & CEO of Iredell Health System, began the ceremony with a heartfelt and emotional speech about the past year’s challenges and victories.
“It’s been challenging. It’s been frustrating. It’s been fatiguing for all. But what we have also seen is determination, resourcefulness, and strength both from our community and the folks that work in this facility,” said Green.
Among the speakers were Danielle Pennell, Clinical Coordinator of the Critical Care Unit; Bob Noble, Directory of Respiratory Care; and Kellie Roten, Assistant Director of 5 North, the COVID-19 floor. All three had their lives flipped upside down one year ago.
“I remember in the beginning, the CDC recommendations were changing daily, and all we could do was go along with the changes. Everyone was scared of what was going to happen because none of us had ever worked in a pandemic,” said Pennell.
In the past year, many healthcare workers have taken on new responsibilities, new roles, a new appreciation for the community, and a definite new outlook on life.
“One morning last spring, as I was driving to work, I turned into our emergency entrance and saw a large sign on the hospital lawn that read, ‘Heroes Work Here.’ I was overcome with emotion as my eyes welled, and it was then that I knew we were going to beat this thing called COVID,” said Noble.
At a time and ceremony like this, it’s important to realize how amazing healthcare workers are, how much they genuinely care, and how much they are needed.
Holding back tears, Kellie Roten said, “We have sung ‘Amazing Grace’ to dying patients who could not have family with them because they were too sick or too afraid of catching the virus themselves…We have seen pain, we have seen guilt, we have seen death, but we have seen happiness as well.”
In a beautiful moment, as the sun began to set and the luminaries shined and flickered, Roten said, “It isn’t all bad. We have seen the smiles, the joy, and the relief of patients who are discharged home.”
Iredell Memorial Hospital even created a new code, “Code Sunshine.” When “Code Sunshine” is announced over the hospital intercom, employees line the hallways where they cheer, shake pom-poms, and play music, all to congratulate a COVID-19 patient returning home.
In addition to hospital administration, news crews, and speakers, several members of the community attended. Many of these individuals were patients themselves, sharing their tremendous thanks and appreciation to Iredell Memorial Hospital’s physicians and nurses.
The staff received flowers, and one former COVID patient, Randy Treacy, held a sign that read, “Thank You Iredell Memorial Hospital 5th Floor COVID-19 Ward, for saving my life from pneumonia 01/24/21 – 02/11/21. Thank you for everything you do. You are an amazing, professional staff.”
As the night came to an end and the 86 luminaries twinkled, emotion fled through the crowd as everyone paused for a brief moment of silence in honor of the COVID-19 victims and survivors.
In his touching ending remarks about the future, Green quoted Nelson Mandela.
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun and one’s feet moving forward.”
Photo: Randy Treacy, a former COVID-19 patient at Iredell Memorial, stands with Kellie Roten, Assistant Director of 5 North.