There likely isn’t a moment in our lifetimes where our society has been more aware of the important work health care workers do. Sure, we've always known that their work was important, but 2020 changed everything.
We hosted virtual concerts, banged pots and pans, and set off (too many) fireworks. In a year filled with division, gratitude for frontline health workers was one thing that united us.
The goal was to celebrate this diverse group of helpers — doctors, firefighters, essential workers, advocates, ordinary citizens — scattered in every corner of the globe as the important figures they are.
We call them heroes because we admire their courage and their abilities. But we must also recognize that when we generalize people working on the frontlines as heroes, it's easy to lose a sense of their humanity and individuality.
These heroes all have their own personal stories on how they ended up in the line of duty. Some are well-paid; some aren't. Some jumped at the chance to volunteer to fight a pandemic; others aren't in a position to turn down the work even if it puts them at high risk. Some are getting all the attention, but all are sacrificing something for the sake of making others' lives better.
This issue is filled with stories of people working on the frontline for the good of all.
There are stories about those working on the frontlines of the public health crisis we're currently facing, but there are also so many stories of the previous crises we've beaten or made significant progress against. We have stories of floating hospitals, artificial intelligence, and Toyota Tundras used for good.
May these stories be a celebration of the frontline heroes. But may we not just feel comforted by the knowledge that these people are here to help us. May this be a reminder that we need to be there for frontline heroes in the same way they're here for us.
Let's donate to organizations around the world making communities safer. Let's call our representatives to make sure healthcare workers are provided with all of the protective equipment they need to ensure their safety at work. Let’s get vaccinated to reduce the burden on hospital. Let's fight for legislative and organizational support for frontline workers who aren't being paid a living wage while they're doing vital work.
Cheers and thank you's are important, but they're only the first step. So please enjoy these stories, say thank you to a frontline hero, and then roll up your sleeves and join us in playing our part.
Meet the Frontline Heroes Making a Difference During COVID-19, Natural Disasters, Mental Health Crises, and More:
These Doctors Treat People Experiencing Homelessness Out Of A Minivan
Medical clinics can be expensive and intimidating for unhoused populations. But when left untreated, conditions can quickly become more serious.
Every Wednesday, Cohealth's Street Doctor program provides free medical services to patients experiencing homelessness in Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Kate Coles and nurse Vaan Phongsavan have treated more than 200 patients from their mobile surgery van.
"Some of our homeless clients have problems with transport, have difficulties to get to an appointment on time, so by being there for them, we actually remove a lot of barriers," Dr. Coles told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
She describes it as general practice on wheels.
"We do see the normal general practice things, people with colds and flus, but we do also see things that are more likely to happen to people who are homeless," Dr. Coles said. These unique problems include, for example, bed bugs that lead to skin infections.
She’s also able to provide mental health assessments and refer patients to a psychologist or drug and alcohol treatment service.
Phongsavan told ABC it’s important to refrain from judgment.
"When we listen to our patients, they actually become quite engaged," she said to ABC.
In 2019 the City of Melbourne committed to investing an additional $200,000 AUD in the Street Doctor program.
An ICU Nurse Drove Through Wildfires to Save Lives
After Allyn Pierce helped evacuate patients from the hospital where he works in Paradise, California, during the Camp Fire that leveled the town — the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history — he got in his Toyota Tundra with two colleagues to drive to safety.
They were gridlocked, and cars around them started burning.
He thought he might not make it out alive and even recorded a goodbye message for his family. Much of his truck burned.
“I just kept thinking, ‘I’m going to die in melting plastic,’” Pierce told the New York Times. But instead of continuing on to safety, his truck held up enough to turn back around and return to danger in Paradise.
“We're terrible at burning to death, but we're amazing at taking care of people,” he said. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, and police officers started a triage center in the hospital parking lot and treated about two dozen people.
Shortly later, the hospital caught fire, so they relocated to the hospital’s helipad about 200 meters away. Eventually, authorities cleared a path, and everyone made it out safely.
When Toyota heard about Pierce's brave work, they generously offered to replace his fire-scorched truck. Sadly, the Camp Fire took the lives of 44 people. But thanks to the brave work by Pierce and other heroes, many more lives were saved.
More Than 40 Employees Lived At Their PPE Plant For 28 Days Making Material To Protect Health Care Workers In The Early Days Of The Pandemic
After nearly a month on the job, employees at a Pennsylvania manufacturing plant went home following a marathon effort to create personal protective equipment for health care workers at the onset of the global pandemic.
More than 40 employees volunteered to spend 28 days at the plant in early 2020 to make polypropylene, a raw material needed to make N95 masks, medical gowns, and other protective gear, according to CNN.
The crews worked 12-hour shifts and got occasional drive-by visits from loved ones, who waved signs and honked their horns in support, CNN reported.
The company gave them increased wages and provided beds, kitchens, groceries, internet access, and iPads.
"We're truly honored to be able to give back and support people we will never meet in some way," operations shift supervisor Joe Boyce told CNN. "All the first responders, all the people on the front lines, we thank you. That's what makes our job easy to do."
Thousands Of Retired Doctors And Nurses Returned To Medicine To Assist COVID-19 Efforts
Back in March, Irish health minister Simon Harris launched a recruitment drive to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. “Your country needs you,” he said in the drive.
All around the world, overrun health services were helping retirees reactivate licenses and fast-tracking student doctors and nurses.
“I wanted to come back and help out my colleagues who I had worked with for so long before, to help the cause,” respiratory specialist David Quigley said to Reuters after he returned home to Ireland from Australia to answer Harris’ call to help slow the coronavirus spread. “As soon as it’s safe, I’m definitely, definitely eager to get back working on the frontline.”
In Britain, 20,000 health professionals who had either retired or left the industry returned following the passing of emergency legislation. The government issued a rallying cry for tens of thousands of retired doctors and nurses, telling them: “Your [National Health Service] Needs You.”
In just 48 hours in March, nearly 5,000 retired doctors and nurses signed up to rejoin NHS. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said in a tweet it was “brilliant support in our national effort” to tackle the virus.
“But we need many more,” Hancock said in a video accompanying the tweet. “It’s easy to do, and we will make sure that your service is put to best effect.”
France’s Oldest Doctor Is Still Serving Patients Amid The Coronavirus Outbreak
A 99-year-old doctor in France is displaying extraordinary commitment to the health of his country’s citizens. Dr. Christian Chenay is the oldest doctor in France and has been practicing medicine for more than 70 years, according to Al Jazeera, who he told that his mission is to help people in the “forgotten” suburbs of Paris.
Al Jazeera reports that France is seeing a shortage of doctors, and it’s for this reason that Chenay remains in practice. The Paris suburb of Chevilly-Larue, for example, has only three doctors for its population of 19,000 people.
“I was retired, but I resumed my activity four years ago because my city had become a so-called medical desert, and I wanted to help,” Chenay told the National Catholic Register.
Chenay, who started his medical career as a psychiatrist in 1951, continued to work at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic out of a sense of duty, despite the serious risks for someone of his age and despite his wife’s concern.
“It is the force of habit that keeps me going, even because there are many local families that I have known for so many years and that still count on me,” Chenay said to the Register.
Chenay has even worked longer than his son, who’s also a doctor but retired at the age of 67.
“Your example is an inspiration,” President Emmanuel Macron told Chenay during a visit to the Elysée Palace in May.
“My old age doesn’t prevent me from working, … so I keep going, hoping for better days to come for all of us,” Chenay said.
This Police Officer Has Talked More Than 200 People From Jumping Off the Golden Gate Bridge
Kevin Briggs is the “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.” For more than 23 years, Briggs worked as a California Highway Patrol officer. Most of his time was spent stationed at the Golden Gate Bridge just north of San Francisco.
When he first started his job, he frequently handled traffic incidents and never expected what his job would grow into. He had no training on how to handle a situation in which someone was contemplating suicide. He didn’t realize how pervasive the issue at the bridge was — that about five suicidal people would come to the bridge each month.
“I stand back, and I'll just introduce myself,” Briggs told CBC. “I'll say, 'Hi, I'm Kevin' or 'I'm Kevin with the Highway Patrol, is it okay, is it alright if I come up and speak with you for a bit?' I want to get their permission and empower them.”
Since he started his job, he’s talked to more than 200 people standing on the edge of the bridge. Although he can’t fix any of the problems people are dealing with, he knows he can lend a listening ear and try to understand what they’re going through.
Briggs retired from the California Highway Patrol in 2013, and he now works in suicide prevention.
This Mother Inspired Health Care Companies To Embrace Artificial Intelligence
When Melissa Mulholland’s ultrasound showed a fetal abnormality called posterior urethral valves, she decided to undergo a risky procedure to save her son’s life.
Mulholland’s job at Microsoft is to work with the company’s partners to create their cloud experiences. She thought that with the advances in artificial intelligence, some of the companies she works with could use the cloud and AI to solve health care problems, like the one she experienced. It turns out they could.
She asked one company, Norwegian software business Crayon: What are some ways AI can bring forth the new frontier in health care?
“Melissa’s personal experience got us looking at all aspects of the AI health care field,” Crayon co-founder Rune Syversen told Microsoft. The company now uses AI and machine learning in their work with Norway’s national hospital, Oslo University Hospital, to help augment doctors’ expertise in colon cancer screening by using advanced imaging to make the cancer treatment process faster.
Another Microsoft partner, InterKnowlogy, was also touched by Mulholland’s story. They build enterprise software for other companies, including many that use AI and computer vision. After conversations with Mulholland, the company’s founder decided to “whip up a quick prototype” to recognize PUV in ultrasound images, he told Microsoft. It worked.
Mulholland’s son, Conor, is now 5 years old and has benefited from AI in several ways, including a speech therapy app he uses to help with speech difficulties he faces because of autism, which he was diagnosed with at age 3. Mulholland’s story shows how one person sharing their story has the power to change the world.
“Think of ways that you can really harness technology to drive greater good,” she said to Microsoft. “Imagine how great of a world we could live in if we had more stories like this.”
This Doctor Cared For A Baby For A Month In 2020 After Parents Tested Positive For COVID
A doctor in India cared for a six-month-old baby after both his parents tested positive for COVID-19 and fear of infection kept others from taking on the responsibility.
After one month, Dr. Mary Anitha handed over Elvin to his parents, who completed their home quarantine after being discharged from the hospital.
Elvin’s parents are nurses at a health care facility in the Indian city Gurgaon. In June, his father tested positive for COVID-19, and the mother returned home with Elvin. But the mother had contracted the virus, too.
District child welfare committee looked for people to take care of Elvin, but fear of infection scared many away, including Elvin’s own extended family.
But Dr. Anitha, a clinical psychologist who runs an organization for disabled children, offered to care for the baby.
“I discussed the issue with my family only after expressing my willingness to take care of the baby,” Dr. Anitha told The Indian Express.
Dr. Anitha, who has three children of her own, lived with the child in an empty unit in her apartment complex, where her children would deliver food by leaving it at her door. The doctor regularly made video calls to Elvin’s parents, who told The Indian Express the doctor was a “godsend.”
“Nobody would come forward to take care of a baby of a COVID-19 patient,” the mother said. “I respect her as well as her family who supported her decision.’’
This Charity Provides Free Health Care On Floating Hospital
People suffer and die every day from treatable causes because they lack access to safe surgery. But a charity built state-of-the-art floating hospitals so volunteer surgeons and medical professionals can provide lifesaving surgical procedures in a safe, sterile environment — with clean water, reliable electricity, and a monitored care center.
Mercy Ships operates the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, providing humanitarian aid such as free health care, community development projects, community health education, mental health programs, and palliative care for terminally ill patients.
When founder Don Stephens learned that 95 of the 100 largest cities in the world were port cities, he knew a floating hospital could efficiently deliver health care to large populations in these cities. He launched the organization in 1978, and now the charity has operated in nearly 60 developing nations.
In every port Mercy Ships reaches, they train local doctors, provide equipment, and open health care facilities to equip local communities to improve health care after the organization leaves. To date, the charity has performed more than 100,000 free surgeries for people who live in places where safe and quality health care is almost nonexistent.