Amid fear and chaos, these three Black heroes on the medical front lines continue to save lives

ByToby Hershkowitz via WABC logo
Thursday, February 11, 2021
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Communities of color have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Amid the fear and chaos, the brave heroes on our medical front lines have stepped up, every single day, to save lives.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Communities of color have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Amid the fear and chaos, the courageous heroes on our medical front lines have stepped up, every single day, to save lives.

This Black History Month, WABC honors three of our bravest and brightest, right here in New York City.

"This is my calling," Rocky Walker says, taking a break from reading his bible in Mount Sinai's vast atrium. He's chaplain of the heart hospital here, but for the past year, he's spent more time in scrubs outside of COVID patient rooms, offering spiritual guidance and helping the sick connect with their families, than he has in post-op. "This is what I'm meant to do."

"Always wanted to help people. It was always a focus," says FDNY EMS Lieutenant Tracy Joseph, standing outside the emergency medical dispatch office she oversees at Brooklyn Metrotech.

What started as a gig to pay off student loans turned into a 21-year passion. Year number 21 has been fraught with fear and danger but hasn't tested Joseph's resolve. "I know we can handle it."

"When I was a child, I saw a doctor take care of a very close family member," says Dr. Phillip Fairweather, who leads the Emergency Medicine unit at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. "And I decided that's what I wanted to be, without any real expectation that was even an option."

Three frontline heroes with diverse backgrounds and specialties, all telling the same story: They didn't choose to help people. Helping people chose them. It's what they were born to do.

Walker is responsible for the spiritual care of patients and staff. "Not everyone is religious, but everyone is emotional, everyone is spiritual, and that's why as a chaplain, I see everyone, regardless of their faith."

It's a similar approach to medicine as the one taken in Fairweather's ER.

"As a public hospital, we are taking care of patients that have no other access to care. It's a luxury and a privilege to be able to kind of be that person for anyone who walks through the door."

"The main focus for me is everyone gets treated fairly," Joseph says, espousing the same philosophy. "You want to make sure the person that's calling is treated like you would want your family member to be treated, or you want yourself to be treated if you had that type of emergency."

Though the pandemic is far from over, these tireless heroes are full of hope for what the future holds.

"I've been described as insanely optimistic," Walker says. Whether wishful thinking or premonition, he doesn't think things will get as bad as they were at the low point last summer.

"But in case I'm wrong," he adds, "we have the benefit of our experience. New York City is vigilant. We will take the necessary precautions to keep the numbers as low as possible."

"There are hopeful signs," Fairweather says, citing "advancements in both therapeutics, but also vaccines becoming available."

Just like their common motivation to help others, Joseph, Walker, and Fairweather share the confidence that, together, we can push through to the other side of this pandemic.

"It's day by day, moment by moment, and you just hope for the best and pray that we can make it out of this," Joseph says, "and we will. We're resilient."

Don't miss more incredible stories in honor of Black History Month.