For Gabrielle Benesh, a student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an intense personal challenge. “My father spent six weeks fighting for his life, while I couldn’t be at his bedside to hold his hand,” she said. “When he came home after 42 days on a ventilator, it was the happiest day of my life.”
Medical student Jacqueline Baikovitz also had a difficult experience during the pandemic. “I was in the intensive care unit with the parents of a dying patient in his 40s,” she said. “In their time of grief, I was able to be there to comfort them. It was a reminder that regardless of COVID-19’s tragic numbers, we must always remember the humanity in medicine.”
Benesh and Baikovitz were among the members of the UM chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society who took part in a COVID-19 Remembrance Ceremony on Earth Day, April 22. To commemorate the year’s painful losses, as well as symbolize the Miller School’s hope for the future, Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer, led the planting of a new Royal Poinciana tree in the park near the 15th Street garage on the medical campus.
“We pause today to reflect on the ravages of the pandemics of COVID and racism facing our nation,” said Dr. Ford. “In the face of those challenges, we must never waver from our commitment to heal and alleviate human suffering.”
Dr. Ford paid tribute to the Miller School and UHealth community for mounting a heroic response to COVID-19. “While our frontline workers were saving lives, our researchers were busy working on tests, treatments and vaccines. This tree will serve as a symbol of renewed hope for our society and a reminder of our unflagging resilience in facing adversity.”
Latha Chandran, M.D., M.P.H., executive dean, founding chair of the Department of Medical Education, and faculty advisor to the Gold Humanism Honor Society, took part in the tree planting with students Ryan Severdija and Priyen Patel. “Today, we pay our respects to Mother Earth,” she said. “Like a tree, we must be strong and resilient, grounded in our roots and helping others with no expectation of returns.”
Moderating the virtual event, Jacklyn Perrault noted that there have been 465,000 COVID-19 cases and 6,000 deaths in Miami-Dade County so far. “For every lost life, there are countless loved ones missing them every day,” she said. “Many others have experienced the loss of jobs, income, and even their homes. Today, we acknowledge those losses and focus on healing as we continue our spirit of compassion and community support.”
For the remembrance ceremony, Gauri Agarwal, M.D., associate dean for clinical curriculum, read a poem she wrote about how water links all humanity. “In the past year our collective tears have fallen into the great rivers of the Earth,” she said.
Melissa Jones noted that medical students have played a role in the great pandemics of the past century, as well as the response to the 9/11 attacks. “Medicine is an unyielding call to action for us,” she said. “Today, as we remember the health care workers who lost their lives helping others, we must encourage family and friends to protect themselves by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.”
On the musical side, student Arnaldo Franco played “Until the Last Moment” by Yanni on his piano, and four students from the Frost School of Music presented the first movement of Beethoven’s 14th string quartet.
Reflecting on the past year, Benesh said COVID-19 changed her life, giving her a depth of understanding that will make her a better doctor in the future. “Cherish the moments you have with the people you love,” she said. “And always be hopeful of new beginnings.”