Frontline COVID-19 workers at Sarasota Memorial Hospital surprised with Super Bowl LV tickets

Doug Fernandes
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
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Sarasota Memorial Hospital nurses attend a Zoom conference call with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Twenty-four workers on the COVID-19 patient-care team at Sarasota Memorial Hospital will have the best seats in the house for Super Bowl LV.

The “house” being Raymond James Stadium, site of the Big Game on Feb. 7. The NFL, wanting to recognize frontline health care workers battling the coronavirus, have made 7,500 tickets available to these vaccinated workers, and 24 will come from the 5 Waldemere Tower unit at Sarasota Memorial.

In a release, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this is a way for the league to honor and thank these workers for their continued work on the front lines during the pandemic. The league said invited guests will receive free Super Bowl tickets and game-day experiences. While most of the guests will be from Florida, the NFL said all 32 teams will select four vaccinated health care workers to attend the game.

“These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude,” Goodell said in the release. “We hope, in a small way, that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes.”

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When registered nurse case manager Rebecca Izquierdo saw the story of tickets being made available, “it was the talk of our unit,” she said. “And I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to make this happen. We are going to the Super Bowl.’ Then we came up with this idea of a video and I wrote a letter.”

The email, actually, went to Rob Higgins, the president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee. A few days ago, members of the unit believed they were attending a Zoom conference call with SMH president and CEO David Verinder.

It wasn’t. Instead, it was a call from Higgins, followed by Goodell. “I saw the pin on (Higgins’) lapel,” Izquierdo said, “and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s Rob.’ I emailed him.”

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According to Verinder, Higgins and Goodell wanted the workers to share several of their stories.

SMH nurses react after learning they will be attending this year’s Super Bowl in Tampa.

“They asked questions and they shared stories,” Verinder said. “Some of our nurses took a moment to share some really personal stories, interactions they’ve had with patients over these past 9-10 months. Really heart-moving, kind of tears-in-your-eyes kind of stories, and at the end of it, I think everybody was very moved. And it’s very meaningful to me, personally, to be able to be a part of that in a very small way.”

“I was thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t wait to call my dad and tell him I talked to Roger Goodell,’” said Nurse Educator Doris Cahueque. “I have five children, four boys, and we’re big football fans in my family. They all played football and they’re going to be hating on me because I’m going to the Super Bowl.

“We are coming through those doors each and every day, giving ourselves, putting ourselves at risk and putting the ones we love at risk. We never know when we leave here if we’re leaving here with the virus. It’s just nice to know we’re being recognized and rewarded, in a sense, for our hard work and courage through all of this.”

SMH nurses join a Zoom conference call with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

According to Allison Gottermeier, multimedia PR specialist for SMH, the NFL extended its first invitations to the hospital’s team. “They were shocked,” she said. “They thought they were just getting a call to talk to our CEO.”

“I’m in shock,” said RN Sherrie Sheppard. “We feel appreciated. We’re recognized. We get to go. Absolutely it gives us something to look forward to. We work together as a team, and now we get to go on and possibly cheer on our home team.”

RN Stephen Smith knew something was up when he saw Goodell on the Zoom call. “It was a familiar face, and I began to sweat profusely at that point,” he said. “I knew something good, hopefully, was going to happen. It’s just exciting. You don’t believe it and, hopefully, we’re there to root on the Bucs. That would be awesome.”

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