By Lisa Hughes

BOSTON (CBS) – When Newton-Wellesley Hospital chaplain Alyssa Adreani came up with the idea to honor COVID patients who died and their caregivers, she assumed it would be a solitary endeavor. As an avid runner, she decided to run one mile for each patient who died at the hospital and to run with the patients’ first names.

She mentioned it, in passing, to a colleague in the hospital hallway. Physical therapist David Nicoloro immediately agreed to join her. By the end of the day, Adreani had a small group of runners who were dedicated to the effort.

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“I was so moved by this,” Adreani said. “I told my husband, ‘Four people want to run!” Her excitement only grew as more colleagues expressed an interest in joining her.

Newton-Wellesley Hospital chaplain Alyssa Adreani (WBZ-TV)

There are now more than 150 Newton-Wellesley Hospital employees running, walking or biking 104 miles. Alyssa calls the effort Hearts & Soles.

For her and others, it has become a way to process the chaos, sadness and loss of the pandemic—particularly during the surge—and support one another. “Everyone here has carried our own pain and sorrow about what we’ve witnessed and experienced in the past several months,” she said.

She hopes running with the patients’ names sends a message to their loved ones. “We cared for them and we cared about them. Whether it was a brief period or weeks or months, it was our honor—I might say our sacred honor—to care for them,” Adreani said.

Of the patients who died at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, one held a unique place in the hearts of his caregivers. Alex Dalmacy worked at the hospital for 22 years. His wife and son are also hospital employees.

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Dr. Elizabeth Konig works with Dalmacy’s wife and describes the sadness she felt when Alex died. “You feel really sad for your coworkers. You feel badly you can’t express that because you can’t go and see them,” Konig said. “You can’t attend any kind of services. You’re not even supposed to give them a hug when you see them at work.”

Dr. Elizabeth Konig runs with names of patients who died from coronavirus on her singlet (WBZ-TV)

Dr. Konig runs with the names of all the victims on her singlet and says joining the Hearts & Soles effort feels like giving back. “Hopefully you’re providing some comfort for all the families who have lost people to COVID,” Konig said.

Employees are also finding a new sense of connection with one another. People in all parts of the hospital—who might not have had reason to connect because of the nature of their work—are now united in their tribute. That togetherness is also a source of healing.

Laurie Diamond is a critical care registered nurse in the ICU. “When I’m running,” she explains, “I think about these patients. I honor these patients and I want the families to know we will never forget them.”

In 35 years of nursing, she says the coronavirus surge in March and April was unlike anything she had ever been through. Diamond, who is in the final miles of her Hearts & Soles journey, writes the names of the victims on her hand. “When I’m running, I can look at their names and do a mantra… to honor them and their family.”

She wants families to know that—to the caregivers—the patients who died were more than a name, a number or an illness. “They were never alone,” Diamond said. “There was always somebody there with them until their last breath.”

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The Hearts & Soles effort ends on November 1, 2020. Adreani chose that date because it is All Saints Day; a meaningful day to remember and honor the people they run for.

Lisa Hughes