MANCHESTER, N.H. – Earlier this year, Rene Johnson died at Catholic Medical Center(CMC) from COVID-19. Johnson would have turned 66 years old on Tuesday, and members of his family celebrated his birthday by showing thanks to the people who cared for him during his last days.
Members of the Johnson family and other volunteers gathered on Catholic Medical Center’s sky bridge in a joint event with the New York-based Stars of Hope organization.
The Johnsons have been no strangers to CMC recently, hoping to turn grief into gratitude by giving way masks to the public. On Tuesday, the focus was on creating stars with messages of support for staff in the CMC Intensive Care Unit.
“We’re continually trying to think of ways to give back to the frontline staff and this is just another way,” said Angela Daneault, Rene’s daughter. “They’ve been having a hard time too and we just want to put a smile on their face, just hanging up stars. I think it’s a great way to show compassion to them.”
Jeff Parness, founder and executive director with Stars of Hope, first learned about the Johnsons after hearing about them on ABC News, one of many national and international media reports about the Johnsons’ efforts.
Since 9/11, Stars of Hope has aimed to prevent adverse experiences after tragedy through the creation of small stars which are decorated with positive and supportive messaging. While the group has seen a large variety of tragic events where people need to be consoled, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided new challenges.
“Something like this is different,” said Parness of the pandemic. “It has been going on and on and on, where you have this rolling wave, but then it comes back.”
“Most healthcare workers are beginning to understand that you be prepared to create these opportunities of unity. It’s through this sense of connection that’s not transactional and allows people know that all their service and sacrifice did not go for naught,” he added.
CMC President and CEO Dr. Joseph Pepe was grateful for all the support shown to his staff, who he referred to as heroes for risking their lives to help those impacted by COVID-19.
As New Hampshire’s COVID-19 rate has begun to drop since its most recent peak in late April, he says that the morale of his staff is improving with a sense of pride spreading for holding firm through what may be the worst of the storm.
“We know now that we’ve been through a surge of COVID-19 patients, we were the epicenter, we had more COVID-19 patients than anywhere else in the state. So, there’s a sense of accomplishment,” said Pepe. “We know now that we’ve done it, and if and when there’s another surge, we know we can do it again and we’re much more prepared.”
No matter what the future might bring, the outpouring of support for the Johnsons after their outpouring of support for CMC staff and other members of the community has left a mark.
Never thought that I would wake up in the morning and see my dad on the news on his motorcycle,” said Kevin Johnson, Rene’s son. “You see that for celebrities, you see that for Michael Jordan. My dad was Michael Jordan for me.”