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Stories from the Field

It is an extraordinary time for our world, our nation and our state. We are honored to serve our community and to share some extraordinary moments of courage, compassion, inspiration, and generosity while we tackle the impacts of the COVID-19 virus. Your support is our secret superpower. Thank you!

A remarkable story of an amazing Hennepin Hero. Dr. Nyan Pyae was hospitalized on May 27 at HCMC, at the peak of the pandemic in Minnesota. His stay is one of the longest on record, receiving care for 106 days.

"It was a very tough thing to take in," said Pyae, 45. "I missed Father's Day. I missed my daughter's birthday."

Unsure of how he contracted the disease, he suspects his exposure came from caring for COVID patients in the hospital.  Hundreds of his Hennepin colleagues on the frontlines have suffered COVID-19 with dozens requiring hospital care. But none to the extent of his arduous journey.

Read more in the September 18 Star Tribune article by Jerry Holt. 

View the FOX9 interview.                                   Photo credit: Star Tribune

Heroes of Hennepin Healthcare

Clifford Rippel Hero photo

Clifford Rippel: Clinical Care Supervisor - Burn Unit

“Our patients are with us in the burn unit for long periods of time, usually at least two weeks and often a lot longer than that. So when the family and visitor restrictions were put in place, it was really hard. Often our nurses had to fill that void on top of an already busy job.

Things like preparing families for discharge became difficult. We have to train family members to clean and care for the patient’s wounds. With the restrictions, we couldn’t give families as much time on the unit to practice. We had to figure out how to get it done, to make the families comfortable and keep patients safe.

All of our patients are super immunocompromised. Adding to that, this has been one of our busiest years. During the first couple months of the stay-at-home order, we saw a big increase in patients. Parents were staying home without child care, kids were trying to make their own food, and people were having lots of backyard bonfires.

It’s hard to work in our unit in normal times and it takes a special kind of person to do it. Our nurses are phenomenal, and they continue to focus on our patients and their safety through all of these challenges.”

Rene Cabrera Hero Photo

Rene Cabrera: Maintenance

“Working in a pandemic has been very different. We all have to take a lot of precautions: handwashing, wearing masks, and social distancing. We try to follow the guidelines even when we are outside. People approach us all the time to ask directions to the testing clinics and other areas of the hospital and they come up close to us. So we have to wear our masks all the time. I think it makes people feel safe when they see us wearing masks, they know we are being careful for them.
At first my daughter was concerned that I would bring the virus home, especially because my son has asthma. The precautions I learned at work I have taken home with me, as an example to my family and to my neighborhood. I live among many Spanish speaker neighbors and they come to me for advice. I tell them the virus is real and to wear a mask.”

Maratu Gerbi Hero Photo

Maratu Gerbi: Food Service

“For 18 years I have worked at Hennepin Healthcare. Working during the pandemic is the most challenging of my career. Now instead of one job, we have to work in many different positions. We have to be flexible in order to help each other through this. In the café we have plastic barriers at the cashier and people no longer serve themselves at the buffet. We were closed at the beginning but now back serving staff, patients and their families.

Thankfully my family is good. My husband cares for our eight-year-old and helps with the schooling during the day. Everyone is concerned about my safety, but I have to work and be there for my co-workers. I miss gatherings with my family and friends, going to church. It’s been lonely and I look forward to seeing people again.”

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Natalie Ikeman: Physician Assistant- COVID Home Monitoring

“When we called patients with a COVID diagnosis there were a lot of tears, a lot of emotion shared in that moment of diagnosis. There were some people who felt like it was a death sentence. I learned to pause and give people time to react. Then we could start trying to answer all the questions that they had. For many of them their heads were spinning and we had to take a moment to breathe.

Going through this with people can get kind of dark, but I was lucky to have colleagues to reach out to and we tried to help each other. We have a buddy system to check in on each other and help give the support that we all need.”

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Shirlee Xie, MD: Hospitalist

“Working through this pandemic can definitely be exhausting. But was I ever afraid? No… not really.

This is a job that I signed up for. My single most important mission is to work in a safety net health system, to provide care to vulnerable populations and to help the surrounding community. I work toward those goals every day.

We do an amazing job at Hennepin Healthcare, giving the best possible care even though we have fewer resources. During this incredible challenge with COVID-19 it’s even more of a challenge. We are taking on all these new rolls and figuring out a way to do everything at once.

I’m proud of how everyone has stepped up to do this work with such energy and pride.”

Dr. Rosemary Quirk hero profile

Rosemary Quirk, MD: Hospitalist and Internal Medicine Director

“Working through this pandemic can definitely be exhausting. But was I ever afraid? No… not really.

This is a job that I signed up for. My single most important mission is to work in a safety net health system, to provide care to vulnerable populations and to help the surrounding community. I work toward those goals every day.

We do an amazing job at Hennepin Healthcare, giving the best possible care even though we have fewer resources. During this incredible challenge with COVID-19 it’s even more of a challenge. We are taking on all these new rolls and figuring out a way to do everything at once.

I’m proud of how everyone has stepped up to do this work with such energy and pride.”

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Gina Testa: Interpreter

“Doing interpretation over a screen is challenging. There are often technological glitches and sometimes you might miss little cues that you would notice in person but are hard to catch over the phone or remotely.

I know that the lack of visitors is really hard on patients so it’s even more important to give them contact with someone who speaks their language. They may not see their friends and family for weeks, so I try to fill that gap however I can. I can tell how scary it is for them.

It may not be an ideal way to do it but we get the job done.”

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Amy Mensch: Program Manager - Adult Psychiatry Clinic

“With all the things happening in the world, it’s been a difficult and stressful time for everyone. Our resilience isn’t as great. Even as mental health professionals we’re struggling with many of the very same things that we’re reassuring patients about. Luckily, we all watch out for each other and try to find ways to help each other cope.

We also have been able to find silver linings. Patients have responded very well to telehealth. We haven’t had as many missed appointments and sometimes meeting people virtually in their homes allows for different insights and interactions.

It has absolutely been stressful, but a lot of good things are happening too. I’ve been proud of the many ways we’ve been able to figure things out and help our patients.”

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Mary Willner, RN: Senior Staff Nurse - Emergency Department

“I think about it all the time when I’m wearing the layers of PPE… how does that make my patients feel? I must look so weird, not like a person. Does it make them feel like something must be terribly wrong? I don’t want them to feel bad about coming in for help.

The protection is important but it puts a barrier between you and the patients and makes it hard to get the closeness that you usually have. You can’t connect. You can’t touch them. In many ways it’s the opposite of nursing.

I’ve tried to find new ways to connect. I have to be more verbal and tell patients what’s going on and how things are going. We’re used to adapting to changes as nurses, but this is requiring us to constantly change how we do things day to day.”

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Sara Rose, Senior Director of Critical Care

“COVID patients are very ill… some of the most ill we’ve ever experienced. They require a lot of care, we’ve had to use more ECMO (a machine that takes over the role of a patient’s lungs and/or heart). We have even turned patients onto their abdomens while they are intubated to help them breathe better. It’s no small job, but we’ve saved some from dying that way.

At our morning huddles we try to celebrate the success stories… a patient who no longer requires intubation, someone who had been on ECMO for 52 days and is now doing well. These are victories for the team and patient and important to recognize.

The mission of Hennepin Healthcare, it gets in your blood and your heart and you can’t abandon it.”

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Kofi Badu Fosu, MD- General Surgery Resident

“Suddenly patients were defining for themselves what was elective, emergent or necessary to do during COVID. We’d see more acute complaints because people were scared to come in and they would wait until it was an emergency. Even getting people in for follow up visits was difficult. We had to adapt and figure out what we could handle over the phone. We were able to do some of our follow up work from home.

It was one of the most unique times I could imagine but we learned to be flexible, to get things done with the resources we had, adjusting and being open minded. For me, one element I had to think about was my shaving habits because beards can prevent a good seal on the N95 masks. That’s when I started to cut my beard short.

As scary as it’s been it hasn’t made me question my career. I’ve realized I love it too much to question it!”

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Molly Jacques - Senior Director of Specialty Care

“There’s nothing like being on a team that can take on a challenge and take care of the most vulnerable in our community. We need to be open to everyone at any time, putting a priority on the needs of the community.

I saw our values in action. We put the needs of the patient over the needs of the system. It’s our job to adapt to patients not the other way around. It was incredibly rewarding to be a part of it.”

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Steve Grove - Chaplain

“The time that patients spend alone in the hospital can have an insidious effect. Otherwise healthy people are left alone to ponder the reality that life is short. COVID doesn’t care who you are and can hit anyone. I see many patients who are reflecting on their own mortality and the ‘Big Picture.’

In that situation, there’s an importance to seeing people, touching people, and simply being present. I’ve seen how meaningful it can be for a patient or family member to see a smile on their nurse or doctor's face, for family to know their loved one is being cared for by someone with a heart.

We’ve had to do video conferences, zoom meetings where we might have technical issues while a loved one is dying. It borders on the absurd at times but remarkably, people are so gracious in a way that I don’t know if I could be. Tragedy brings out the strength and goodness of people.”

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Grace Braimoh, MD - Internal Medicine Resident

“It’s hard to explain to family members just how severe the illness is when they can’t come in and see for themselves. How do I explain that a patient can’t leave his bed or walk even three steps without his oxygen dropping? How do I help a husband understand why his wife has to be admitted to the hospital when she was feeling fine just a couple days ago?

I’ve had so many conversations with family members about intubation and what their wishes are if their loved one takes a turn for the worse. These discussions are happening every day. I’ve done this thousands of times but every time feels like the first.”

Daniel Robertshaw at left hero photo with team

Danielle Robertshaw, MD - Internal Medicine, Behavioral Health and Housing Needs (at left in photo)

“COVID presents different anxieties to at risk populations. Even testing for COVID can cause stress because people are concerned that they might lose their housing or be ostracized if they get back a positive test result.

Every community you test is unique. We strive for consistency but we are constantly reminded that one size doesn’t fit all.

I’m proud of the flexibility and creativity that has come out of this. The partnerships that we have formed and the approaches we’ve developed will have long-term benefits even after we’ve made it through this pandemic.”

Natalie Stoltman Hero photo

Natalie Stoltman, MD - Family Medicine Resident

“So many things in our lives have been taken away. They seem like little things but they add up. Going out to the orchestra, watching Vikings games, going out with friends… even interactions at work. We wear masks all day so you miss seeing a smile on someone’s face when you greet them.

When you’re stripped of the non-verbal communication, you still find ways to connect. Even a simple nod from someone can spur you on.

There are so many demands on us right now. We look for the little bright spots that can help you through the afternoon.”

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Brenda Kennelly – Manager of Hennepin Healthcare’s Brooklyn Park Clinic (at right in photo)

“When we first divided the space and created the viral clinic, some people were scared to work there. We talked things through and everyone has calmed down. We’ve learned about proper PPE use and nobody working here has tested positive so that has helped.

Now we feel like a well-oiled machine. We’re working together really well, patients understand what is happening and how things will work.

Health care is complex even in normal times and the pandemic has brought so many additional layers of complexity. I’m proud of how we’ve responded and come together for our patients.”

Jose Luna

Jose Luna, Security Officer

“I was born and raised in New York so when everything started happening I got to be so nervous about whether I’d be able to see my family. Would things ever get back to normal and be like they were before?

Then I saw the way people stepped up and showed how much they cared about each other and the work we do. We all play a part and we’re all important pieces of the family. So even when we have to do things like change visiting policies and keep people apart, we’re doing it in a way that shows we understand and we’re there for the families.

We’re all part of a big family and that’s helping us do what’s needed to keep everyone safe.”

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Nicole Grimlie, RN: Senior Staff Nurse - Emergency Department

“When you’re working in a stabilization room it is crowded. It can get hot and you’re there for multiple hours at a time. Wearing the PPE, the N-95 masks, you don’t really get deep breaths so you can start to feel light headed. It’s difficult to hear and people’s voices are muffled.

It’s been difficult but we have a strong teamwork approach and it’s become even stronger. We do game planning and preparation beforehand. We work on clear and concise communication. We even try to find humor and make each other smile. We all come from different backgrounds but we come together as a team.

I’m proud that, even with all the challenges, we’re still all focused on compassionate care.”

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Abby Thacher, EMS Educator

“It’s been a rollercoaster. There are days when I’m feeling motivated and I feel like I’m able to still accomplish things, and then others where I struggle to just form a sentence and to see how I can contribute.

One of the more rewarding parts of my job right now is developing mental wellness programming for the EMS team, offering peer support and wellness.

It’s important for everyone to know they’re not in this alone, that they have support and we can be there for each other.”

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Colleen Crampton, Director of Laboratories

“This was like a slow moving tornado heading our way and we had to get prepared.

We had to think about equipment, logistics, supplies, and there were challenges nobody could have anticipated. For example, all of the swabs that we need to conduct testing for coronavirus are made in Northern Italy. All of them. And suddenly Northern Italy was shut down.

Our team is full of problem solvers. We moved quickly to make sure we had the staff in place, the supplies we needed, and the knowledge about how to get testing done. We were one of the leaders in the state in getting our testing set up and available quickly.

I wasn’t surprised by this because we believe in Hennepin Healthcare’s mission: serving underserved populations… serving everyone.

We knew we just needed to get this done.”

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Jill Carter, Exercise Physiologist, Cardiac Rehab and "PPE Buddy"

“When my normal outpatient duties were taken away, I asked myself, ‘What can I do?’ I felt a need to contribute even in the chaos. We’re used to helping people every day and it didn’t feel right to not be involved when I could do something to help at my hospital.

I got trained on how to help people with PPE and I went to the units with the COVID patients to make sure all the doctors and nurses knew what to do to protect themselves.

People are putting themselves in harm’s way for patients and they’re so busy, I can help them remember to do things like tuck their cuffs into their gloves and put on their eye shields. I was worried at first people would see me as intruding and telling them what to do but people are so appreciative and collaborative. We’re all under the gun so let’s get through it.”

Jerry Hanlon

Jerry Hanlon, RN: Senior Staff Nurse - Emergency Department

“Every day when I go home I have to worry about whether I’ve been exposed and what I might be carrying with me. I’m around it all the time and each day might be the day that I catch it.

I haven’t thought about myself but I think about others. At the grocery store or at home with my husband, I do everything I can to be safe but I live with that constant fear. Every day is a new exposure for me, and I don’t want to be the one who spreads it to someone else.

That’s why the greatest support I get is from the people I work with and the camaraderie from others who are in the same situation. That’s life now. Work is the worst place to be and the best place to be, because it’s the only human contact we have for the duration of this pandemic.”

Catherine Gonzalez-Klang Interpreter 2

Catherine Gonzales-Klang, Interpreter

“It’s definitely hard as an interpreter to have to do so much remotely. I sit in my office most of the day looking at a screen and trying to help when usually I’m walking around and working in person with patients and the staff. It’s very isolating.

Usually the remote connection goes well, but there are times it’s more difficult, especially with elderly patients. One of my first COVID patients had to be intubated and was sedated and I was just trying to explain to her what was going on.

Sometimes, particularly when the patient is having a hard time breathing, I have to take a moment after a call to try to calm myself, stay strong, and not cry.”

Aaron Robinson Hero photo

Aaron Robinson, MD - Emergency Medicine Resident

“I remember the first case I saw, an elderly patient came through the front door and was so short of breath he couldn’t talk. I knew right then COVID was here to stay and would change life as we know it.

Working in the Emergency Department, we are used to running toward trouble and helping those who need it the most. As we watched the pandemic spread we knew we were going to see the sickest patients. It’s definitely fear inducing, worrying about PPE and knowing we’re on the front lines. But it’s also a unique and interesting challenge and a time to step up.”

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Fedlu Awol, Medical Technologist

“My wife is a pharmacy technician working with COVID patients and we have two school-aged kids. We talk about it a lot and we take precautions. My kids know when I get home there is no hugging until I change first and get washed up. It’s gotten to the point that my kids ask me if I’ve washed to make sure.

I know I’m not particularly at risk at work. The virus isn’t going to jump out of the test tube and I have the PPE that I need. I’m probably more at risk going to the grocery store. Still, I think about it and there is some fear and uncertainty.

My kids are supportive. If I’m feeling bad because I couldn’t help with their homework they tell me, ‘Don’t worry. You’re saving lives.’”

Fred

Fred Ames, Director of Facilities

“At first it was scary for everyone. I was concerned about bringing it home to my loved ones. I’m 66 years old. I have heart disease and I’m a cancer survivor. I’m at risk and don’t know how I’d fight the virus. But I get strength from what I learn at work and how we are all taking this challenge on and staying careful.

Every day is another chapter. There are challenges every day, not just during COVID. This time the magnitude is different but we have great teamwork and that’s a precious commodity that helps us solve problems and get things done.”

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Yeshi Sherpa, Inpatient Phlebotomist

“The PPE makes my job a lot harder. The masks can make my glasses fog up which is bad when you’re drawing blood and you need to see the veins. My hands are rough and dry from washing them so often with alcohol. Going into each room requires extra time because we need to be so careful and take precautions.I’ve seen people and how they are suffering. A lot of the patients want to talk, but it can be difficult for them because they are coughing a lot. But I try to listen as I can, even though I want to get in and out quickly.
I think about how important it is to relieve the pressure on the nurses by doing what I can to help.”

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Caitlin Eccles Radtke, MD - Infectious Disease

“When this started, I made a decision to stop visiting my parents and my sister’s family for fear of spreading the virus. My sister has four kids (a four year old and almost 1-year-old triplets) and we’re all very close.
It’s hard to be isolated from family. One day I stopped by to drop some things off for my sister and my nephew asked if I could come in and play. I told him I wasn’t able to right now because I didn’t want to bring in any germs. He said, sadly, “Auntie Caits, maybe you can come and play when the virus is gone.”

Complete heartbreak.

We’re working so hard to protect patients and staff and the community as a whole. That mission keeps me going. But every now and then I have a moment where I stop and rest and consider what is happening, and I know there is an emotional side to this that we’ll be dealing with for a long time in the future.”

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John Sylvester, Paramedic - Hennepin EMS

"I think my approach to being a paramedic has changed largely due to my own anxiety about the coronavirus. I feel like I have gone through what amounts to a grief process in the last few weeks. I have been angry about it, I have been anxious about it, and I have settled largely on acceptance.

As far as an impact on my family, I feel that with a newborn, there is an extra level of anxiety. It has been especially hard on our parents not being able to experience him like they had hoped. It is also obviously been difficult on my wife during her maternity leave, to be so isolated from her support structure outside of our immediate family.  In some ways, being able to come to work and have what amounts to a hands-on impact on our local response to the pandemic is easier than staying at home with a newborn and socially isolated."

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Thomas Wyatt, MD: Medical Director - Emergency Department

“Putting on personal protective equipment is uncomfortable. It gets very warm and it makes it challenging to communicate. Masks, gowns and face shields can be barriers as you are working quickly to care for patients.  But when our team gathers together and we’re putting on our PPE, it fosters a sense of teamwork.  We game plan together and we look out for each other.

In many ways COVID-19 is presenting us with challenges we have never dealt with before. At the same time, seeing how people respond has been inspiring. Yes, we’ve seen very sick patients. But the professionalism and commitment I’ve seen shows that we are more than up for the challenge.”

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Laura Miller, RN: Nurse Manager - Medical Intensive Care Unit

“The sense of isolation on the unit is hard to get used to.  Doors are closed.  Nurses have to take time to put on protective gear just to go in and see a patient. Patients are separated from their families. There are tragic stories of patients who are having end of life conversations over an iPad or on a phone because their families can’t be with them.

Sometimes we find ourselves asking if this will end.  Will we wake up from this nightmare.  But until then, we continue working to help our patients. We don’t complain. We pull together because that’s what we do.”

The Superpower of Generosity

  • Over 1,000,000 of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as been donated including: surgical masks, N95s, homemade masks, face shields, gloves, medical hijabs and hand sanitizer.
  • Donations fully funded a Convalescent Plasma Study launched by Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute.
  • 20,968 meals served to staff on the frontlines, keeping their spirits and bodies energized through this crisis.
  • Patient experience has also been enhanced during this time with Ipads and NICview for virtual visits for families with babies in the NICU.
  • Patient comfort bags offer supplies and activities for hospital inpatients isolated from visitors.
  • Cell phone chargers, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, and thermometers,  help staff provide care for patients, safely, outside of the hospital setting.
  • $42,530 raised during Firefighters for Healing two week $10K matching challenge April 27-May 8.

Swapping Sails for Faceshields

Tim Carlson of Sailcrafters

Tim Carlson, Owner of Sailcrafters

Marines are known for jumping in first and responding to a crisis with vigor and with a plan. Ex-Marine Tim Carlson of Sailcrafters saw a need in late March, just as the COVID-19 virus was affecting his community. His plan, use the 630-pound roll of clear plastic in his shop, used to create windows in sails, for face shields to protect healthcare workers.

The COVID-19 virus is spread between people who are in close contact with each other or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The face shield, along with a face mask, is a critical piece of personal protection equipment (PPE). And back in March, there was a national shortage of all types of PPE.

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Why I Give

Aidan Hofstedt, 13 years old

My name is Aidan Hofstedt. I am a 13-year-old Life Scout from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and a member of BSA Troop 518 out of Anoka. I started my Scouting career in kindergarten at the age of five as a Cub Scout. I made the transition to Boy Scouts in fifth grade. Two years later, I was already a Life Scout. The next rank to achieve was the prestigious Eagle Scout, an award that I wanted for my entire life.

To earn an Eagle Scout rank, your project must identify a beneficiary organization. In mid-April, during the stay-at-home order I had a conversation over the phone with my grandmother. I felt called that day to commit to making 100 masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. I worked with church leaders to help identify an organization who would benefit from a large supply of masks.

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In May, Hennepin Healthcare’s HCMC, in downtown Minneapolis, was the hospital in the state with the most reported cases. I worked quickly to complete my project and produced 333 masks, much more than the initial goal of 100. My church leadership team connected with parishioners who work at Hennepin Healthcare. My project was my way to thank these front line staff who care for those in need, save lives and fulfill God’s mission.

I am honored that staff could wear my masks to and from work to give their hospital masks a longer shelf life. These special front line workers could also use my masks for people in their waiting rooms or test centers who do have masks. Not all super heroes wear capes, some wear masks. This is why I give.

Why I Give

Ella Roether, 15 years old

My summer trip to Israel with United Synagogue Youth was cancelled due to the pandemic. It was an adventure I was really looking forward too. But it didn’t take long to realize there was another purpose for the money I saved. I was watching the news one day and was struck by how little our healthcare workers were being supported for their dedication during this crisis. There was an image of a parade of protesters, angry about being told to stay home, being blocked by doctors and nurses. It was such a powerful photograph and really moved me.

Ella Roether

I realized how fortunate I was to be able to stay at home, safely with my family, while healthcare workers were isolating from their own children and risking their lives to take care of others. After talking with my uncle, who works at Hennepin Healthcare, I become even more passionate about supporting Hennepin Heroes. Knowing that Hennepin Healthcare’s mission is to serve everyone, even those undocumented or without financial resources is awesome.

The healthcare workers at Hennepin Healthcare are working so incredibly hard. They should know there are a lot of people out here supporting them, loving them, and grateful for what they are doing. That is why I give.

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