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National Nurses Week 2021 spotlights strength in pandemic year

Nurses profiled last year by KING 5 share how their lives have changed a year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Nurses Week is celebrated every May 6-12, but this year seems different. 2021 is a year to reflect on the incomparable sacrifice so many nurses made on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19.

Saying thanks just isn't enough for the countless women and men who couldn’t stay home or Zoom in to work. This year KING 5 looks back at some of the brave individuals we spoke to last year who stepped up in the midst of a pandemic.

Here's where they are now:

Nurse Subhneet Kaur Thiara was touted as a rising star at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma last spring. She shared the complicated process of preparing for work during COVID-19 and maintaining the safety of her family at home. 

Since KING 5 last spoke her, she has been promoted to co-manage the Neurology, General Medical & Telemetry unit. 

“Beginning this role has changed me in so many ways but I am thankful for the growth it has allowed. It has been an emotional journey watching toe staff rise to the need of the community. I am so proud to be a part of this team!" Kaur Thiara said.

Nurse Chris Ledesma continues in emergency services at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Ledesma has seen it all working in the only Level 1 trauma center for a four-state region.

Ledesma says he hopes more people will pause to honor the last day of National Nurses Week. It ends on May 12, which is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, a pioneer of modern nursing.

Nurse Tricia Nora is the health care coordinator with Mary’s Place in Seattle, which offers shelter, resources and medical services to women and families transitioning out of homelessness.

Over the past year Nora's team helped to move the Swedish CUPW (chemically-using pregnant women) moms in recovery to Mary’s Place, after Swedish needed more beds for COVID-19 patients. Several healthy babies were delivered under her care at Mary’s Place.

Nurse Hannah Pankratz was a volunteer with Evergreen Health in Kirkland before she was hired a few years ago. Pankratz spent the last year working overnights and was one of the first to experience working in a “negative airflow space” that’s critical for the current virus outbreak.

Her passion for the job made it easier to skip her own birthday while caring for patients in a dire time of need.

Nurse Matt Kuffel is first and foremost a proud father of two and a devoted husband. He's also a nurse who specialized in respiratory issues and was quickly tapped to lead the COVID-19 ward and trained nursing residents. Kuffel has since jumped to St. Michael Medical Center in Silverdale where he is the assistant nurse manager of the progressive care unit.

“I strive to make the progressive care unit a place where nurses enjoy working by building positive relationships with the staff and promoting an overall feeling of teamwork and togetherness for our patients and each other,” Kuffel said.

Nurse Leondra Weiss is purple with pride to be the nursing manager for the maternal and infant care clinic at the University of Washington Medical Center. Weiss is a UW grad and a former researcher and teacher who suddenly found herself caring for expecting mothers that were often terrified to leave the house because of COVID-19.

“The babies were coming, COVID or not!” Weiss said. She’s a mother herself and admits the stress and uncertainty pushed her to the limits but knew her leadership was most valuable to the team — especially when tough decisions had to be made.

“We had to tell COVID positive moms that they had to quarantine from their babies and not breastfeed,” Weiss said.

She continues to work with high-risk pregnant mothers and says the last year has seen progress in steps toward health equity.

Nurse Colleen Patillo followed in her mother's footsteps and became a nurse at the same hospital where her mom worked for 35 years, Providence St. Peter in Olympia. Patillo, who grew up in Olympia and went to nursing school at South Puget Sound Community College, also met her spouse working at “St. Pete.” The couple juggles twin babies as well as opposite nursing shifts.

It’s been a frantic year for Patillo who made the jump from the intensive care unit to work in the ER.

"One year has felt like five years," Patillo said.

“I just felt like I wanted to help and go where there was a need,” Patillo said.

Her mother worked in the same hospital during the H1N1 pandemic in the spring of 2009 and says that pandemic also had supply shortages and mass confusion. Today, Patillo's mother is happy to play grandma now to the twins.