FishHawk resident Melissa Bell, nurse and manager of ER 24/7 in Riverview, enjoyed the energy at the Super Bowl.

The NFL found a very special way to thank many of the healthcare professionals who risked their lives on the front lines during 2020. In late January, 7,500 local essential workers received free tickets to Super Bowl LV where they were treated to a first-class experience at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, including free food and drinks, tickets to the TikTok tailgate featuring Miley Cyrus and more.

Bloomingdale resident Blair Alsup is a registered dietitian who works in the Moffitt Cancer Center ICU and cared for COVID-19 patients during the worst of the pandemic. After receiving her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in January, she learned that she had won a ticket to the Super Bowl from the NFL.

“This whole year has been so stressful and emotional working in healthcare,” said Alsup. “But I trusted science and didn’t pass up the first opportunity to get vaccinated, and then I was rewarded with a free Super Bowl ticket and the experience of a lifetime, and I was a part of history watching the Tampa Bay Bucs win at Raymond James Stadium. It felt like I won the lotto doing what I love … taking care of patients.”

FishHawk resident Melanie Bosely has been a nurse for 23 years—critical care, ER, cardiac cath lab and interventional radiology. She is a mechanical circulatory support coordinator with the heart transplant program at Tampa General Hospital, and when she first received the email that she won a ticket to the Super Bowl, she thought it was a joke.

“Everyone was so nice,” said Bosely. “It was so organized and you truly felt like a VIP. In a way, it was also weird to be thanked for doing your job. I’ve been a nurse for 23 (almost 24) years. I’ve been threatened, yelled at, cussed at, hit, and when you see people in their worst moments you rationalize that behavior and get used to it in a way. But hearing ‘thank you’ often means, although we tried, it wasn’t enough. So to hear ‘thank you, we appreciate you,’ is a little weird. Nice, but weird.”

Brandon Regional Hospital ER Nurse Veronica Trias lives in Channing Park.

“I have never attended such a big event before and was very humbled and grateful to be chosen,” said Trias. “I was actually working when I found out. An email came out telling us we were chosen. Word spread quickly around the department and we were incredibly excited. Some were in tears.”

The way she and other healthcare workers were treated at the event meant a lot to Trias.

“During the game, the NFL made it a point to honor us in many ways through signs, videos and stadium staff continuously thanking us for our service,” she said. “We truly felt special and appreciated that day.”

FishHawk resident Melissa Bell, nurse and manager of ER 24/7 in Riverview, and six of her co-workers also won tickets from the NFL.

“The NFL did a great job representing all healthcare workers,” said Bell. “The energy sustained throughout the entire game. When the Bucs won, the crowd was wild. The cannons went off, fireworks were in the air and confetti was everywhere. Everyone was cheering.”

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Kate Quesada is the Multimedia Manager for the Osprey Observer Newspapers. She has been working for the paper in various positions since 2005 when she graduated with her Masters degree in mass communications. She lives in Valrico with her husband Mike and son Dylan.