Sunday was a big day for sports fans. It was also a great day for a few lucky nurses who have been going above and beyond for their patients on the front line. The National Football League (NFL) gave away 7,500 tickets to the game to essential workers battling the ongoing pandemic. It was the perfect treat after a brutal year’s worth of hard work.
The Ultimate MVPs
The Super Bowl looked a little different this year. With the pandemic still at large, organizers had to drastically limit the number of people attending the game. However, they saved thousands of seats for arguably the most valuable attendees: frontline workers.
In the lead up to the game, the NFL announced it would be giving 7,500 tickets to healthcare professionals, all of whom received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before attending the festivities. The league discussed plans with local health officials before kickoff to make sure the event complied with the latest health guidelines.
NFL Commissioner Robert Goodall announced the league’s decision in a heart-warming video, saying:
“These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude. We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings.”
The live broadcast of the game also featured several segments devoted to frontline workers.
Catching Up with Nurses on Game Day
We were lucky enough to interview some nurses who got to participate in this year’s festivities, including providers from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Sarah Caplinger, a clinical nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said she first heard she was going to the Super Bowl while trying to fix her broken shower. That’s when her friend and colleague Matt Cartmell told her they had won tickets to the game through a raffle at work.
“I’ve never won anything, so I was completely shocked and excited. Not even a broken shower could bring me down after that news,” Calinger said.
Andrea Nowlin, a pediatric nurse practitioner for the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says she was her friend Dori Longley’s “plus one” to the game. “She had me on speaker with a room full of my nurse, nurse practitioner and physician colleagues. I’m pretty sure Dori didn’t even finish her statement before the screaming then tears of joy ensued.”
Everyone said the NFL was more than welcoming on game day.
Caplinger said it was a particularly nice way to unwind after such a chaotic year. “I think a lot of us needed a break from the action and have some fun-and this trip was a wonderful way to recharge and reset,” she said.
“It was truly incredible to share this experience with healthcare workers from all over the county. The NFL made us feel very special. They went above and beyond. ‘Thank you’ will never be enough to express how truly grateful and blessed I feel to have had this opportunity,” Nowlin added, as she admits she’s a Kansas City fan.
A Dream Come True
It’s not every day that you get to go to the Super Bowl. These providers were more than excited to see some of their favorite players in action on the field.
Nowlin added, “I never in a million years thought that I would ever attend a Super Bowl, let alone one with my team playing. This was a huge bucket list check for me. Then you couple that with being honored as a ‘healthcare hero’ and wow, that’s just humbling.”
There was clearly no shortage of love for healthcare providers on game day, which isn’t something we normally associate with the NFL.
“If money was no object, I think the NFL would give this experience to all nurses in a heartbeat. Throughout the whole trip, I felt seen, heard, praised, and I wish every nurse and healthcare worker to experience that gratitude,” Caplinger said.
As for 2021 and Beyond?
Both nurses we spoke with have been working around the clock at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. They say they are looking forward to getting back to some sense of normalcy in the new year.
Over the past year, Caplinger said she’s learned how resilient nurses can be on the job.
“My colleagues and I chose Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to support kids and parents coping with their medical hardships and to celebrate their recoveries. Through this pandemic, it has been incredibly difficult to see previously healthy children so strongly affected by COVID-19. We show up to work with a smile and a positive attitude, willing to give our best, and I think more people need to recognize that strength and resiliency.”
Nowlin hopes her work life slows down in the new year.
“I never imagined that I would experience this in my lifetime. COVID-19 added yet another layer of complexity to my day-to-day routine at work. It required me to be even more vigilant about infection prevention in my immunocompromised pediatric sickle cell patients. But now, the heightened measures have become the ‘new normal,’” she added.
Going to the Super Bowl was a reminder of how much fun life can be – at least when we’re not in the middle of a health crisis. “This pandemic is yet another reminder to live life to the fullest and enjoy the time that is given to us. The desire and passion for a job that I love could never be shaken by any pandemic,” Nowlin said.
A big thanks to the providers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and all the other healthcare professionals who participated in this year’s Super Bowl.