LAFAYETTE, Colo — On Thursday, things started slowing down at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette – an odd feeling during a COVID-19 surge. A wildfire was approaching.
Registered nurse Wendy Cardona said she and her colleagues could smell smoke for much of the day.
“Then, of course, things came to a stop because we didn’t know how bad the fires would get," she said.
Cardona’s team wandered into a dark room on the west side of the hospital near the surgical unit where they worked. As dusk passed, she said the colors outside became more amplified and her team could see the fire burning just a few miles away.
“It was a striking scene to see live, which compelled me to take a picture," Cardona said.
Her photo, shot using a nighttime mode on her Google Pixel 5 phone, has become one of the most memorable images from Thursday’s Marshall Fire. It shows three other nurses in personal protective equipment staring out the window, ambulances and a medical helicopter just beyond the windowpane and a bright orange glow in the distance.
The symbolism of medical workers staring out at disaster wasn’t lost on Cardona, who reflected on the last couple of years.
“It was a tragic grand finale to another dumpster fire of a year, that includes the healthcare workers seeing the world go up in flames,” she said.
“I can see chaos. I felt very proud to see [emergency medical services], and I wanted to express gratitude for them lining up. Seeing fire trucks heading towards the fire. Cops trying to organize. I personally felt helpless.”
During the Marshall Fire, Good Samaritan Medical Center reported evacuating more than 50 of the hospital's most critical patients to other hospitals, not knowing if winds would shift and push the fire in that direction.
Cardona said a few of her colleagues asked her to send them the photo. Before she knew it, the photo made it to the social media platform Reddit where it was shared all over.
“It’s been overwhelming, especially since I don’t like too much attention my way,” Cardona said.
When she realized the photo was as popular as it was, she decided she wanted to do something positive with it. Cardona, a nurse of about 15 years, said she recently experienced burnout and other mental health challenges. During her toughest times, she said finding joy helped fix that.
“I started grasping on to any little thing that gave me joy, be it fitness, be it listening to the same song a million times, taking a very long hike anything,” she said.
So Cardona decided to start a fundraising effort for the victims of the fire, focused specifically on getting them the items they need to maintain a routine. She wants to raise funds to buy running shoes for a runner who lost everything in their home. She wants to buy hiking equipment for someone who finds joy outdoors and lost everything.
She calls it Project Joy, you can donate to her effort by clicking here.
“I wanted it to be something more than just someone looking at a photo. I wanted to create a sense of community, unity,” she said. “Here’s another opportunity to see each other human to human.”
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