How do you make an entire hospital smile, even if just for a moment?

Administer the medical center’s first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after 10 brutal months of battling a pandemic that’s pushed health care workers to the limit and killed more than 300,000 Americans.

At Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte Thursday morning, a nondescript loading dock was instantly transformed into a stage with cameras whirring as a truck unloaded the hospital’s first vials filled with frozen powder.

Moments later, pharmacy director Tim Randolph stood before a pair of gleaming ultracold freezers stocked with the world-changing drug. “Just a big thank-you,” he said, ticking off the names of team that have come together to make distribution a reality.

Hours later, Dr. Eric Eskioglu, executive vice president and chief medical officer for Novant Health, dropped by the pharmacy to see how things were going. “Now this is a sight to be seen,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for this.”

From there, the loaded syringes were paraded through a gantlet of clapping, whooping health care workers.  You may never heard whooping like this in a hospital before. And Randolph added some punctuation with a side-stepping dance move (pharmacists, who knew?)  as he approached the doorway.    

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Dr. Samuel Dartey-Hayford, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, received the hospital's first dose of the vaccine.

 The first doses of the vaccine administered by Novant Health were given to Dr. Samuel Dartey-Hayford, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, Marge Avila, a registered nurse at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and Madison Valenza, a certified nursing assistant at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center. All three team members have been on the front lines, caring for COVID-19 patients and fighting this pandemic since March.

“Seeing people die from COVID-19 in the ICU where I work has been psychologically devastating,” said Dartey-Hayford. “Today is a day to celebrate, and I am hopeful that this vaccine will help us start the healing process.”

While Dartey-Hayford was basking in the happy occasion, Kayla Askey was having her own moment. The 24-year-old pharmacy resident was chosen to inject the dose. With a room full of media, Novant Health leaders and team members, she was nervous beforehand. And beaming afterward: “It’s great to be part of history,” she said.  

While pharmacists in hospitals don’t always get a lot of attention from the public, they’re a critical link in the chain of patient care. And pharmacy is front and center of the epic distribution of the vaccine just getting underway.

Kayla Askey
Kayla Askey

 For her part, Askey had completed a pharmacy rotation on the ICU and had worked with Dartey-Hayford. The circle was complete.

She marvels at how fast treatments progressed and how resilient her teammates were. “They’re still upbeat … still trying to help patients in the best way.”

 While rooms filled with patients on ventilators was overwhelming at the time, Askey said what she reflects on today are scenes that don’t get as much attention.

She still thinks about is all the patients who got better, were released to “step-down” units where they would continue to heal. And then get to go home.

The next dose went to ICU nurse Diana Tejada, a COVID ICU nurse and mother of two who basically never stops moving. After the shot, she told the room: “It doesn’t hurt. We’re good!” More applause.

She sat for 15 minutes as required and then returned to a floor full of patients.

Diana Tejada secondary
ICU nurse Diana Tejada got the second dose of the vaccine at Presbyterian Medical Center.