TAMPA, Fl. — Nicholle Henning has been a nurse for 15 years, but like many other health care workers, she says the past year has been like no other.
She works as the director of nursing for AdventHealth Tampa.
“A couple of my units flipped to COVID when we started, so I’ve been in the trenches since day one with them, so have learned a lot this last year for sure,” she said.
But this week, she found a bright spot.
“You want to tell everyone again,” her husband said in a video recording.
“I’m going to the Super Bowl!” Henning said through tears.
She is one of the 7,500 vaccinated health care workers the NFL is gifting tickets to the game.
Henning said Monday night, while at a stoplight, she checked her email after learning her friend was notified of his tickets.
“I immediately started screaming and crying and there was a Pasco County sheriff’s deputy next to us at the stoplight, and he rolled down the window and said ‘is everything okay in that vehicle?’ And my husband said ‘yes my wife is a nurse and she just found out she’s going to the Super Bowl!’ And then he started screaming and yelling too,” she said.
Immediately, she called her daughters to tell them the news through the rush of emotions.
“I think it was the rush of emotion like, wow I am humbled enough to be chosen to go to the Super Bowl. This is a once in a lifetime thing that all of the work that nurses do each and every day, regardless of a pandemic or not, is recognized by the community and by the NFL,” she said.
Other health care workers opened their emails to the big news this week, too.
“This is gonna be just so surreal to be there live, see a live game, especially this type of game, I mean it’s the highlight of football season, just absolutely crazy, I’m pumped.” said Michael Zimmermann, the director of emergency services at South Bay Hospital.
Zimmermann said it will be his first Bucs game.
“Knowing what we’ve been through, then to have the NFL, you know, give this generous gift to us, it was amazing, really humbling,” he said.
Carlo Rivera, a nurse in infection prevention at Largo Medical Center, has also been on the front lines of the pandemic.
When he opened his email, he said he screamed.
“I’ll be talking to my grandkids and telling them about the time that I went to the Super Bowl, that I won the lottery after unprecedented times in the pandemic, it's just a lifetime of storytelling. I think that I’ll cherish it forever,” Rivera said.
He’s also a big Bucs fan.
“I think it’s an incredible feeling because we’ve been through so much through this past year and I think just seeing my colleagues smile, even my colleagues now in the ICUs, seeing them smile through their eyes and jumping up and down, it’s just an incredible feeling,” Rivera said.
It was exciting for Melissa Gedon, a patient care technician at Trinity Medical Center.
“My manager sent me a message, 'you know you won a ticket to the Super Bowl.' And I’m like, 'no way.' And I called and she’s like, 'yeah you won a ticket!' And I was like 'wow!,'” she said, adding that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The opportunity is to thank health care heroes during a historic game and a historic time.
“The history of Tampa Bay playing in their own Super Bowl is historic. The pandemic was historic and the nurses made history all year long. So, I was like wow this kind of comes full circle,” Henning said.
During the game, she said she’s pulling for a Buccaneers win, adding her favorite player is Gronkowski.
“We joke around here in the office, and I keep saying, you know, 'I have a severe case of Gronk-itis and the only cure is a Super Bowl win,'” she said.
This story was originally published by Haley Bull at WFTS.