Gabriela Bren will be just like millions of fans, watching the 2020 NFL Draft tonight from her parents' home in South Jersey. The orthopaedic trauma nurse will, however, sport her hospital scrubs and pom poms when the Eagles make their choice.
Gabriela, a rookie Eagles Cheerleader in 2019, will be part of the Eagles' virtual Inner Circle. Each team selected a group of fans who will be connected to the live television broadcast through a video conference call. The fans will be displayed on television to replicate the on-site crowd reaction that the draft won't have this year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and the Eagles announced a $1 million donation this week to provide critical assistance to promote the well-being of essential healthcare workers and their families, while supporting local businesses in the City of Philadelphia. Gabriela was chosen to be a part of the virtual Inner Circle to honor all of the front-line workers on the national stage.
"I think that it's awesome that the fans will be included during the draft to make it as normal as they can make it," Gabriela said. "I'm honored that I've been given this opportunity. My family and I look forward to the draft every year. The fact that we still get to enjoy it, and now we'll be a part of it, is going to be so much fun. I think it's great that the Eagles and the NFL are using this large platform that they have to recognize front-liners because it affects everybody, not just sports fans. This is something that's taking place throughout the whole world."
During the NFL Draft broadcast on television, you will see these fans who were chosen to show their love and passion for the team.
Gabriela will be with her parents, Abraham and Sonia, along with her boyfriend, Brian Khoury. It was the care that Abraham received as a patient that initially inspired Gabriela to become a nurse.
Abraham was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 when Gabriela was a 17-year-old junior at Holy Cross High School in Delran, New Jersey. Abraham endured significant health challenges over a three-year span during which the cancer resurfaced and he had a heart attack. Gabriela accompanied her father to his radiation treatments and he always complimented the nursing staff for helping him get through the ordeal. Gabriela decided that she wanted to be that source of comfort for others in their time of need.
"I didn't really understand everything that he was going through and he tried to hide how much he was suffering. Looking back at it, he was trying to make the best out of the situation, trying to stay positive, but we always knew he was hurting a lot more than he was showing," Gabriela said. "He's a fighter. He's the strongest guy I know, hands down."
Gabriela enrolled in nursing school at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. Both of her parents are from Puerto Rico and most of her extended family still lives there, so she did not want to be too far away from home. While Gabriela learned the tricks of the nursing trade, her father made significant changes to his diet, reducing his intake portions and limiting the savory Puerto Rican foods that reminded him of home, but are high in salt and fat. He incorporated more walking into his regimen and lost 60 pounds as a result.
Gabriela graduated from Widener in May 2016 and started as an orthopaedic trauma nurse that fall at a Level 1 trauma hospital in Philadelphia. That means the most severe cases will come to her hospital. The recovery for patients ranges from a few days to over a year.
Still, nearly four years of experience on the job, as well as two years as a nursing assistant while in college, could not prepare her for the COVID-19 pandemic. Gabriela estimates that her hospital received its first case in late March. She was actually quarantined at home for a few days because she came in contact with a patient who unknowingly had coronavirus. Gabriela was fine and never exhibited any symptoms, but was fearful of the potential of bringing it home to her family.
"That's what I was more scared of," she said. "I wasn't even worried about myself."
Unfortunately, Gabriela has co-workers who have contracted COVID-19. When it comes to injuries from a car accident or a violent attack, there is a roadmap, a plan of action. With medicines and vaccines in trial stages, coronavirus is providing new challenges without very few answers at the moment.
"COVID is not a typical virus. It's fast-acting. People can decompensate quickly. At the start of the shift, they can look like they're on the road to recovery then, just all of a sudden, decline rapidly in the blink of an eye. That's what's stressful for me, not knowing how the day is going to go for the patients that I'm caring for," Gabriela said.
"I get to see these patients face-to-face and see how harsh it is on the human body. It's eye-opening. People need to remember that it's not just about them. It's about everybody that they're putting at risk. You might not get sick, but your 75-year-old neighbor could or a 30-year-old cancer patient."
COVID-19 patients are placed all together in one section of the hospital to keep the other patients safe. All of the nurses rotate shifts in the COVID unit to avoid burnout. Gabriela will work three 12-hour shifts in a week. Recently, she's booked them on consecutive days to provide more days off in a row to rest and recharge. She works roughly one out of every four shifts in the COVID unit. Gabriela might be placed in the COVID unit more if not for the continuous flow of trauma patients who require help.
"I don't know if people are taking social distancing as seriously as they should be," Gabriela said. "I drive into work and see people out and about. I'm a very healthy 25-year-old and I can say I've seen people my age in the hospital with this virus not doing well at all. It doesn't just affect the elderly. It's affecting all populations. I think everyone needs to realize that and they need to start taking the necessary precautions. You have to think about everyone in this situation and be selfless."
As a way to relieve stress, Gabriela has turned to typing out her thoughts in a journal, detailing her experiences at the hospital during this pandemic. It's not something she ever envisioned when she started nursing school, but it'll be studied one day in the future by her children and grandchildren.
"Working as a nurse in Philadelphia, I felt as if we were in for a rude awakening," Gabriela wrote in one post. "Were we going to become the next Italy? Was I going to be one of those nurses posting my injured face on social media? Being at work every day had me in a constant state of anxiety. My chest felt tight 24/7. I could not take a deep breath. I was hardly getting any sleep."
The NFL Draft will provide a moment of relief for Gabriela and millions of fans who miss the way that football, along with other sports, unifies our society.
"I'm so happy to have some type of football back in my life. This is going to be so refreshing to have something normal," Gabriela said. "I think it gives people something to look forward to."
Tonight, Gabriela will be alongside her father, Abraham, the man who showed her how to be strong through difficult times. It turns out that the apple didn't fall too far from the tree in the Bren household.