Volunteering for front-line duty

Radiation therapist Angel Barber spent three days at Novant Health’s mass vaccination sites to provide patients hope in the midst of a pandemic

“Every vaccine we give is a hope for a future — a future we want to ensure more people can share with their loved ones and friends.” — Angel Barber

Team member: Angel Barber, radiation therapist, Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center

A diagnosis that changed everything: In 1999, Barber’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, and when she died, it changed everything. “Watching my mom go through her diagnosis, her treatment and the end of her life made me want to completely switch gears with what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.

The tragic loss of her mother created a spark in her, igniting a new passion. But a career in healthcare was an uncharted path. Barber had worked in retail for more than 20 years. So she started investigating what it would take to get to her goal. She found a program for radiation therapy and graduated in 2008. Soon after, she joined the team at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. “Every day I feel like I’m honoring my mom by giving patients the type of care she received during her cancer journey,” Barber said. “I feel like I’ve won the lottery because I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.”

On the ground at a Novant Health community vaccination event: Working in radiation therapy, Barber has been somewhat removed from front-line work to combat COVID-19. In 2020, she lost one of her beloved patients to the virus, but for much of the past year, she has been spared the daily rigors of caring for acutely ill patients in a pandemic world.

Barber has been eager to do her part to help. She’s jumped in to deliver snacks to different areas of the hospital to brighten the days of her fellow team members and sourced supplies for the COVID-19 unit when needed. When the vaccine rolled out, she volunteered at a mass vaccination event hosted by Novant Health at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Barber was responsible for transporting vaccines from the pharmacy to the individual stations where her fellow Novant Health team members administered each dose. She got a chance to interact with patients and their families as they waited, and the experience made a profound impact on her. “There was one moment when I felt so blessed. There was a lady who brought her elderly father to receive his vaccine. She was so very thankful because of all of her fears for her father and his risk factors for getting COVID-19. She just kept saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you for being here,’” Barber recalled. “That was the ever-present mantra I heard patients say: ‘Thank you for being here. Thank you for being in our community. Thank you for having the vaccine.’”

After that experience, Barber was anxious to do more, so she dedicated two more days to volunteering at another Novant Health vaccination event, this time at the Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. She spent those days guiding patients from check-in to the vaccination areas and listened to their stories. One person told Barber he was supposed to come with his spouse, but she passed away due to COVID-19. A daughter told Barber her mother was supposed to be there with her, but she, too, died after contracting COVID-19. “It was so terribly sad — beyond sad. I don’t even have the words in my vocabulary to describe how traumatizing that had to be for those families,” Barber said. “When you think about the entirety of the devastation COVID-19 has wreaked, you can’t help but think of the lives lost. We’ll never know if the vaccine could have made a difference for them. It can be very overwhelming to think about.”

Profound gratitude: The gratitude Barber witnessed at those vaccination sites was overwhelming, too. “One particular young lady, who is an educator, looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I am just so overwhelmed with gratitude for what is happening here,’” Barber recalled. “This has definitely shown the way a lot of people can come together in a time of crisis. I hope it will change our society for the better, and I feel Novant Health has done an excellent job. I could not be more proud to be part of this team.”

The impact: Working to make her community better, stronger and healthier is a passion for Barber, and she saw that passion reflected back to her in the team members, patients and volunteers at both vaccination sites. “There was so much compassion and love to get everyone better and get us past COVID. I was very, very moved to see everyone coming together for a common good, especially with what we’ve been through,” Barber said. “Sometimes, as humans, we can get caught up in our own self-interest and what’s important to us individually. The pandemic has made people focus on the value of our community and within our community. Each person matters, and Novant Health takes that completely to heart.”