Heartwarming story behind mystery man who went viral for sign thanking Covid ER staff

Man stood outside Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey in March 2020 to thank staff for saving his wife

Sheila Flynn
Thursday 02 December 2021 03:41
South Bay hospital's longest COVID patient returns

The identity of a mystery man who went viral for holding up a sign outside the windows of a New Jersey emergency department – thanking staff for saving his wife as the coronavirus ravaged the world at the height of the pandemic in March 2020 – has been discovered, The Independent can exclusively reveal.

The man was photographed by a nurse at Morristown Medical Center during a time when covid restrictions prevented friends and relatives from visiting any patients at the hospital. To thank staff, the older man, wearing jeans and a blue and gold jacket, stood outside the back window of the emergency department with a cardboard sign that read “THANK YOU ALL IN EMERGENCY FOR SAVING MY WIFE’S LIFE I LOVE YOU ALL.”

At the time, hospital workers were so touched that they were reduced to tears – but they didn’t initially recognise the man or know which patient was his wife.

The picture, however, still went viral gaining national and international attention as the world struggled to contain the pandemic. It is currently making the rounds again on social media as healthcare workers continue to battle surging patient numbers, bed shortages, burnout and exhaustion.

But at Morristown Medical Center, president Trish O’Keefe has had the image blown up, placing it around the hospital to continue inspiring and thanking staff, spokeswoman Karen Zatorski tells The Independent. They call him “the man in the window” – and they’ve figured out who he is, though they’re protecting his privacy and that of his wife.

“We let the picture speak for itself,” Ms Zatorski tells The Independent. “I think that was part of the beautiful thing about this: We just followed his lead.

“It was a very beautiful moment, and ... it is still a source of inspiration.”

She said the hospital “kind of put the pieces together” to discern the man’s identity.

“Frankly, I wanted to find out who he was early days, just to see, frankly, if he would want to tell his story,” she tells The Independent.

The patient’s husband was shocked at the response, she says, “and so was his family”. So the hospital agreed to keep his identity secret “just to respect them and not have them inundated with inquiries”.

Staff, patients and visitors now walk by the enlarged photos of the grateful man every day.

The president of Morristown Medical Center had the viral image blown up and placed around the hospital to inspire patients and workers

The images, Ms Zatorski says, uplift everyone because they show “just gratitude and remembering the healthcare workers and remembering those around you, and how far a little act of kindness [or] small expression of gratitude, how far that went.

“There’s over 7,000 people who work here, and we have thousands of people who come here every day – and it’s still just an incredible source of inspiration to us.

“It comes down to gratitude and just being kind to one another, especially at this time of year.”

When the photo was first posted in March 2020, nurse Paige Vander Vliet wrote online: “This picture brought us all to tears,.”

She’d shared the image with her sister-in-law, whose social media post went viral. “It’s amazing to see not only the ER staff but all the floors coming together during this challenging time. We couldn’t do this without nurses, techs, residents, doctors, secretaries, registrars, housekeeping,” nurse Vander Vliet wrote online.

Her sister-in-law shared the picture along with hashtags that include #thankahealthcareworker and #imnotcryingyourecrying.

Nurse Allison Swendsen, who took the photo, said at the time: “I don’t know him. I don’t know his wife, but through out the last 13 years as a nurse, I realized, this is why we do it. Times are tough but we make a difference.”

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