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‘Fight the good fight’: Surgical nurse with Anchorage ties depicted in mural honoring frontline workers in Denver

Aaron Jeffery poses with a mural at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
Aaron Jeffery poses with a mural at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, Colorado.(Judy Jeffery)
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 6:38 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In Denver, Colorado, a mural was painted in the back stairwell of Saint Joseph Hospital, meant to lift the spirits of front-line workers who are tirelessly battling COVID-19. One face in the mural might be familiar to anyone who grew up in Anchorage.

“We didn’t really realize it was happening until it was there and one of my neurosurgeons said, ‘hey I think they’re painting a picture of ya,’” says Aaron Jeffery, a surgical nurse who grew up in Anchorage.

Jeffrey went to Dimond High School and graduated from the nursing program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“The teachers that I had at Dimond back when I was there were very influential in helping to make people feel motivated by their intelligence and make them feel like they’re going to do big things with their careers. I think that also helped me to fuel myself toward a medical degree,” says Jeffrey. “They have a really good nursing program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. It was just a perfect place to help start that career.”

The hospital partnered with local artists Karlee Mariel and Raj Chaudhuri to create a two-story mural for their team members. According to Dr. Christy Chaudhuri, the area that the mural is placed is where all of the staff come in.

“We thought we do something to inspire to say thank you, to cheer people,” says Chaudhuri. “Every gesture that someone gives, it means so much to us, because we’re going to come back tomorrow and we’re going to do it again, so saying thank you in any little way is hugely important.”

Jeffrey says his parents played a big role in why he wanted to go into the medical field, teaching him that the only job worth doing in this world is improving the lives of other people.

“You never really expect it to turn into what it has this year because this pandemic has started to reshape what people see as frontline workers and how they’re defined in peoples heads,” says Jeffery. “You know they say ‘heroes’ — I don’t know if I feel like a hero every day, but it’s a really nice thing to feel people reach out and recognize you.”

When Denver’s cases started to spike, Jeffery had to cancel elective surgeries and start working in the intensive care unit with COVID-19 patients.

“We ended up converting half of our operating room into a back-up ICU to hopefully house people. We had an overrun ICU with patients who needed advanced care on ventilators,” says Jeffery. “And as it turned out, I had to see the worst of the worst, and it became such an incredible reality to watch those people, what they were going through, the suffering and how it tore families apart. Both on the sides of people who are working every day and taking care of patients and also the people who are most affected by it with their loved ones getting sick and passing away.”

Along with medical staff, the mural also includes sanitation and security workers often overlooked in the scope of this crisis.

Aaron Jeffrey is depicted in a frontline workers mural at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver,...
Aaron Jeffrey is depicted in a frontline workers mural at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, Colorado.(NBC)

“There’s a lot of statistics that come out about COVID and how it can impact their lives, and it’s easy to say that a lot of these statistics aren’t true, but I’ve seen it first hand and I’ve watched how it’s affected people very adversely,” says Jeffery. “Until we can get ahead of this thing with this vaccine that’s coming out and it’s important we all look out for each other. Safety is the best caution.”

Jeffrey has a message of hope for his fellow first responders.

“Fight the good fight, keep up the good work, we do this — taking care of our communities — because one day, it’s going to be us that needs somebody’s help. And it’s really nice to know that someone is there who is skilled to provide that to make you feel better in those times of ultimate need,” says Jeffery.

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