Event on March 1 to honor victims, survivors of COVID-19

Event on March 1 to honor victims, survivors of COVID-19
Posted at 4:33 AM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 19:52:08-05

Phoenix, Tempe, Fountain Hills and Litchfield Park have issued proclamations marking March 1 as "COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day."

To date, more than 15,000 Arizonans have lost their lives to the virus.

To honor them, the group Marked by COVID along with The Floral Heart Project will display artwork at the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park. The public is invited to view the display from 12 to 4 p.m. on Monday. Masks and social distancing are required.

ABC15 has spoken with hundreds of Valley residents impacted by COVID-19.

Samantha Casselman is one of them who says her father Timothy Reardon, a former Glendale police officer, spent 65 days in the ICU before passing away in September.

“He got sick during the surge in the summertime and ended up being on the vent for 50-plus days," Casselman said.

She says his long hospital stay opened her eyes to the lack of resources for hospital workers and families. She then created the non-profit Speaking Life, allowing organizations to request tablets or tablet stands, care packages, and personalized badges so families can connect with nurses and see what they actually look like behind their masks.

A nurse practitioner herself, Casselman says the pandemic also brought to her attention the need for a cultural shift in some health care organizations, which is why she also offers free consultations.

“Whether it be training on compassionate communication or understanding the research that’s gone behind these challenges they are faced with, gaps in communication and families not being able to be there with their loved ones," she said.

Michele Elizaga also experienced the pain of having a loved one in the hospital. She lost her father, Levi, in December. She says he was visiting Arizona from the Philippines when the virus spread through a relative who attended a non-essential event.

“Devastating, devastating. No one should have to go through that. Not only that but again just that it was so preventable." Elizaga said. "I really feel compelled to tell my story because I want people to understand just how serious this is."

Andrea Barlow says she also wants to remind people just how serious the virus is. Her father, Don, was admitted to the hospital in November after testing positive. He was there for about 10 days, before being released one day after his 66th birthday.

“It was terrifying to know we may not see him again and he was taken away, admitted to a hospital and that may have been the last time I ever saw him in person," Barlow said. "The people that took care of him, his nurses, his caseworker, his doctors, they brought him back to us and that in itself is the biggest blessing."