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Not all healthcare heroes are doctors or nurses: Meet the medical interpreters fighting COVID-19 on the front lines

At a Weld County hospital, medical interpreters were there to help when many of the patients infected with COVID-19 only spoke Spanish.

GREELEY, Colo. — When we talk about the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time we acknowledge everyone who works inside hospitals like the Banner Health North Colorado Medical Center (NCMC) in Greeley. 

People like Melissa Villarreal and Dania Davis.

"It takes a team to take care of a patient," said Villarreal, a medical interpreter at NCMC. "Yes, what you hear mostly is doctors and nurses. Of course, they’re risking their lives, but they’re not the only ones."

Villarreal and Davis are medical interpreters at NCMC. For months they’ve stood at the bedsides of people infected with COVID-19 and helped doctors translate diagnoses and treatments for patients and families who do not speak English.

"One thing that I’m pretty sure made us come and find strength was the love that we have for each other and the love that we have for our patients," said Davis. "We want them well. We want them healthy, we want them with family enjoying each other."

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While the hospital is nearly back to normal now after treating dozens of COVID-19 patients, the interpreters still work with those who are sick. 

"During that time, the majority of our COVID patients were Spanish-speaking only, so Dania and I ran around the hospital all day," said Villarreal. "We were there for the families that were not able to talk to their loved ones because they were connected to ventilators. We had conference calls with the families and the doctors to give them updates."

There are signs outside the hospital in Greeley that say ‘heroes work here.'

Through long shifts and the threat of infection, Davis and Villarreal have shown you don’t need to be a doctor to be someone’s hero.

"We were holding tablets. If the patient couldn’t hear we would yell ‘your sister says this.’ Screaming! We tried to make it the best possible for both ends. They could see each other, share jokes, laugh," said Davis. "We knew how important our role was for them to understand the treatment and everything, so we couldn’t let them down."

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One translation, one smile and one recovered patient at a time, Davis and Villarreal tore down a language barrier to help fight the virus.

"We feel privileged to be here," said Villarreal. "Especially during that time, to be able to keep the families informed so that they had some sort of peace of mind."

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