Delicia Sullivan, Gabriella “Gabby” Benitez, Tina Galindo -- three UNLV Medicine medical professionals who say they’ll never forget this time in their lives, when they’ve had the opportunity, the honor, of vaccinating people against a virus that’s already taken more than 400,000 American lives.
Each woman is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) effort to vaccinate individuals against COVID-19, beginning with employees serving in frontline roles in healthcare, public safety, law enforcement, public health and emergency first response, both within NSHE institutions and, as designated by the Southern Nevada Health District, the broader community.
Soon, they, along with dozens of their colleagues from UNLV Medicine -- including doctors, medical assistants and UNLV School of Medicine students -- will also be vaccinating Clark County School District employees. Representatives of the UNLV and CSN Schools of Nursing, as well as nursing students from Nevada State College are also part of the large medical team.
How Benitez, Galindo and Sullivan -- they've been working long days vaccinating people at the UNLV Student Union -- are reacting to their critical roles in conquering a pandemic, how they got to this time and place, is compelling.
“I’m not tired after giving vaccinations,” said the 31-year-old Sullivan, who normally works as a medical assistant in the UNLV Medicine Department of Internal Medicine. “I feel like I can run a marathon afterwards. It’s such an honor to meet and help first responders, healthcare workers, police officers -- so many people who are always helping our community. They thank me for being on the front lines helping them and I thank them for doing what they do for our country.”
Not long ago, however, Sullivan wasn’t feeling well after work. She sat outside the UNLV student union crying. Colleagues gathered around her. She learned in a phone call that her mother had died.
“It was totally unexpected,” she said. “A blood clot came loose and filled her lungs with blood.”
Sullivan, who’s taking prerequisite courses at CSN to become a nurse, said her mother, who suffered from lupus, had helped her care for her two young children, Jayden, 12, and Journie, 9. “I could work and not worry about them,” she said.
Three years ago, the unmarried Sullivan, who was impressed with her grandmother’s big heart, decided to follow in her footsteps and became a foster mother. “I grew to love my foster kids, Jayden and Journie, and adopted them….Jayden said I saved them but I told him that and he and his sister saved me. I told him that they made me a better person. And they really have.”
Three days after her mother died, Sullivan was back vaccinating people.
“My mother, who I cared for after she got lupus, was my rock. My mom said my biggest problem is that I didn’t believe in myself like I should...hey, I’m scared. I admit it. But I’m going to show my mother that I can make my dreams come true with her help…I still talk to her every day...I found a babysitter for my kids. It’s going to be harder. But I’m going to go on and become a registered nurse and then I’m going to be a doctor. I told my mother when she got lupus in 1997 that I was going to be a doctor and that’s what I’m going to do."
Sullivan, who studies in her rented home after her kids go to bed, truly enjoys helping people fearful of the coronavirus.
“I’m proud of the person I’ve become. I was like too many young kids in high school, not listening, making mistakes. But now I’m the total opposite. I adore helping patients. Here I am, working with doctors and nurses. That’s not something I take for granted. It’s truly an honor to be entrusted with such a sensitive situation.”
Like Sullivan, Benitez, who’s also a medical assistant in the UNLM Medicine Department of Internal Medicine, has found satisfaction in vaccinating people against COVID-19.
“It’s really remarkable to be part of something that can help so many people,” she said. “Every time I give a vaccination I know this person will always remember it. To be one of the first people doing this, I feel special and honored…People are so excited. They know this is history. They take selfies.”
Though Benitez says it’s scary that a virus can come along and do damage to the entire world, she says she tries to focus on the positive -- the fact that there were scientists who could come up with a vaccine in a short time to save people from sickness and death. “I’m glad I can now be part of something that can relieve so much stress.”
Not a serious student in high school, Benitez says that once she took a desk job at a medical clinic she knew healthcare was for her. “I found I was very attentive to people. I found I always want to know how I can help someone...If someone’s hurt, I run toward them.”
She became a medical assistant and is now studying to become a nurse at the Arizona College of Nursing -- Las Vegas.