OWINGS MILLS, Md. — At a time when she has faced unexpected challenges professionally and personally, Dr. Tara Barry felt like she was being called to the principal’s office and not entering every football fan’s dream.
Barry was told to see the vice president of Tampa General Hospital for a meeting, and something about it just didn’t seem right. She even asked her program director if she was in trouble.
In a matter of minutes, all of her fears turned to jaw-dropping joy when Barry saw Baltimore Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell on a Zoom call. Campbell informed Barry, a Ravens fan, that she was among the 7,500 vaccinated health care workers chosen to receive free tickets to Sunday’s Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida.
“I’m super grateful,” said Barry, who often wears Ravens scrub caps. “I don’t know how this happened or how they know that I exist. But it’s everything I ever hoped for.”
Health care workers at Tampa General Hospital were asked to name their favorite NFL team after getting vaccinated. After receiving the names of the Ravens fans, the team selected four at random to get tickets: Barry, registered nurses Joel Forsyth and Riannon Herr, and director of patient care operations Ronetta Lambert.
When Campbell announced they were going to the Super Bowl, Barry cupped her hands over her face in disbelief, Lambert clapped and Herr started to cry.
“You guys are the real heroes,” Campbell said on the Zoom call. “You’re the ones who make this world a better place.”
Barry, 32, is a surgical critical care fellow who takes care of trauma and post-operative patients. Some of those patients had COVID-19 and others were intubated for a prolonged period and required a tracheostomy, a medical procedure that involves creating an opening in the neck in order to place a tube in a person’s windpipe.
“It’s a situation that you never want to be in and that you never imagined that you would be in,” Barry said. “So I think the unknown and the uncertainty, especially in the beginning, was really tough.”
The pandemic became tougher for Barry in July, when she was infected with the coronavirus. She was sick for two weeks and then had chest pain for a couple of months afterward. Even today, Barry isn’t back to the point where she was before COVID-19.
Ravens give healthcare workers/Ravens fans Super Bowl ticketspic.twitter.com/39D9M66
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) Jan. 27, 2021
“It took me a little while to get back to being able to breathe normally and walk up a flight of stairs,” Barry said. “Before this, I was in the best shape of my life. I was biking 15 miles a day and now it’s a struggle to get back to a new normal.”
Campbell, knows of what Dr. Barry speaks. He contracted COVID-19, as well, and has the pre-existing condition of asthma. He was one of the Ravens players who got infected with COVID-19 during their outbreak.
The four health care workers who were chosen to go to the Super Bowl by the Ravens all have ties to the Baltimore area. Barry graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine; Herr, Forsyth and Lambert all worked at University of Maryland Medical Center. They all plan to proudly wear Ravens jerseys to the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
Forsyth, who grew up in western Maryland, talked to his wife about going to the Super Bowl when Tampa was selected to host, but they decided against it because it was too expensive. They’re now expecting their first child and are in the process of heading back to Maryland.
A registered nurse anesthetist, Forsyth was among the health care workers who were particularly at risk. He was part of the original airway management team for COVID-19 patients and wore full personal protective equipment for eight hours at a time.
“[The NFL] could fill the stadium with public tickets, but they elected to send a couple thousand health care workers from across the country and Florida,” Forsyth said. “So major, major props to them for doing that. I still am wrapping my head around the fact that the NFL is doing this.”
Lambert has been a fan of the Ravens since their first season. She even lived in the same apartment complex as Ray Lewis when the Hall of Fame middle linebacker was a rookie in 1996.
In charge of patient placement at Tampa General Hospital, Lambert has been woken up at 3 a.m. with a phone call asking where to place six more COVID-19 patients when there were no beds available.
“To me, I think it means the world,” Lambert said of health care workers going to the Super Bowl. “For those people that every day put their own fears aside, come into work and take care of these patients, I was just so happy.”
Herr is a registered nurse in a surgical trauma ICU, where liver and kidney transplants are performed. She remembers signing up for the chance to get Super Bowl tickets, but she didn’t think much about it because the only thing she’s ever won was a teddy bear at a carnival when she was 8.
For the Zoom call with Campbell, Herr had just rolled out of bed after sleeping for two hours. She was between two night shifts.
“I was super confused,” Herr said. “I thought it was just a super nice tribute and then they dropped the bombshell. Obviously, I was so frustrated with myself because I couldn’t even form sentences. All I could do was cry.”