Two years after spending 30 days fighting for her life at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, Dana Ikener scratched an item off of her to-do list.
“I told you I’d come back,’’ Ikener said.
Nearly two years to the day that the 58-year-old walked out of Memorial Hospital, she returned to the hospital to thank the people who cared for her in March and April 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The doctors, nurses, therapists who gathered for the informal get-together with pastries and coffee were delighted to see her again.
“You look fantastic,’’ said Greg Braeger, a manager at Memorial’s inpatient rehabilitation unit, whose team helped her get back on her feet after she had been on a ventilator and in the intensive care unit.
Ikener was striking in her crisp white shirt, white pants and white sandals to match.
“It’s good to see everybody,’’ said Ikener, who works for an accounting firm and as a deaconess in her church. “I do appreciate all the help and all of the care that you gave me because at that time, there were so many people dying from this, and the Lord blessed me to be around you people.’’
The staff celebrated the day Ikener left the hospital, April 22, 2020. Ikener represented hope, a beacon for all the others staff were trying to save. Chief Nursing Officer Tamera Dunseth Rosenbaum still has the video of Ikener leaving the hospital on her phone. She still watches it periodically, as it is a reminder of the reason she and hundreds of nurses show up to work every day.
Ikener told the gathering: “I was determined to walk out of the hospital, because I walked in,’’ Ikener said. “I had told them, I know you are supposed to wheel me out, but I am determined to walk out. So, whoever gets in trouble, I’m sorry.’’
No one got in trouble. As Dr. David Steinbruner, Memorial’s chief medical officer, recalled: “You had top cover.’’
That day, when nurses asked Rosenbaum to allow Ikener to walk out, she said: “Make it happen.’’
“That was part of your healing,’’ Dr. David Steinbruner said to Ikener.
Rosenbaum told Ikener the memory of her walking out is one she won’t ever forget.
“I was here the day that you walked out, and I don’t expect you to remember, but I certainly remember it. I still have the video on my phone as I know many of the folks in the room still have,’’ Rosenbaum said.
“You talked about how difficult a time it was for the nurses, all of the staff members, the physical therapists, all of the therapies that dealt with these patients, but it’s patients like you that kept them coming back every day,’’ Rosenbaum said.
“Really?’’ Ikener asked.
“Absolutely. And the fact that you were so kind to come back and tell everybody thank you, you won’t know how much that means to all of the nurses and all of the therapists who took care of you and so many other patients. I just want to say thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to thank us for what we did,’’ Rosenbaum said.
Ikener was one of nearly 20,000 COVID-positive patients cared for in UCHealth’s 12 hospitals during a two-year span of the pandemic. UCHealth also administered 850,000 vaccine doses and provided 11,500 monoclonal antibody treatments and preventive therapies.
Throughout the pandemic, leaders in UCHealth hospitals worked hard to show their appreciation for staff by offering free and discounted meals, stipends for child care and employee bonuses.
“We often talk about ‘How does your bucket get filled?’ and our heart gets filled by people coming back,’’ said Lucy Montoya, a manager on the rehabilitation unit.
“You look beautiful,’’ Montoya told Ikener, “and we know the journey that you have taken. For us, this is confirmation of what we do every day, and how we help our patients. To be able to see you like this is just remarkable.’’
Montoya lost a sister to COVID-19, so seeing Ikener looking so healthy meant everything to her.
“This is very near and dear to my heart. For you to be here, healthy and alive and well, it is just amazing and it warms my heart.’’
Ikener, who seemed at home with her caregivers, had a story to tell before leaving to go back to work. Her co-worker at the accounting firm had asked if there would be food at the informal gathering.
“They might have something,’’ Ikener told her co-worker, who is pregnant with her first child.
“She stays hungry,’’ Ikener said, filling the room with laughter.
Staff took the hint. This time, nearly two years to the day, Ikener walked out of the hospital again, this time with a box of pastries.