Published on November 23, 2021

Pandemic Perspectives: Parade Marshals Share COVID-19 Lessons

TUPELO, Mississippi – Four North Mississippi Medical Center team members lead the Reed’s Tupelo Christmas Parade, but they will carry legions with them.

Representing those who have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious disease specialist Dr. Mindy Prewitt, Environmental Services team leader Jason Orman, Critical Care nurse Mary Pruitt and respiratory therapist Deanna Yates will share the “Magic of Christmas” as parade grand marshals. The parade will start at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, in front of Reed’s Department Store on West Main Street with special guests the Budweiser Clydesdales.

“The North Mississippi Medical Center family is grateful to the Reed family and the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association for honoring our health care heroes,” said David C. Wilson, president of NMMC-Tupelo and North Mississippi Health Services chief operating officer.

“The four grand marshals are among the thousands of courageous and dedicated professionals who have tirelessly cared for the sick and their families during the tough days of the pandemic,” Wilson said. “We are thankful to have the opportunity to raise up our health care team during this year’s annual Christmas parade.”

Weathering the COVID-19 storm

Mindy Prewitt

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Mindy Prewitt describes the pandemic as the 9-11 for a generation of health care professionals.

Through the most difficult days of the pandemic, infectious disease specialist Mindy Prewitt, M.D., would look to a window.

In each window of the COVID-19 unit at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo, someone posted encouraging words of faith that ended with a passage from the Bible.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good,” from Galatians 6:9.

“There were days of despondency and questioning, but God never stopped providing those olive branches in the flood, most often through the encouragement of our amazing team and through recoveries and patient success stories,” Dr. Prewitt said.

For Dr. Prewitt, a Shannon native, the Reed’s Tupelo Christmas Parade has been a fixture in her life.

 “Whenever I think about the Tupelo Christmas Parade, I cannot help but reflect on the contributions of the late Jack Reed Sr., who was so good to the students of this city and county and was good to me in particular as he supported student causes and academic excellence,” she said..  “I am grateful the Reed family has continued this tradition.”

As she rides in the parade, Prewitt said she will carry her colleagues with her.

 “We are emerging from the 9-11 of our medical careers,” said Dr. Prewitt, who joined the hospital medical staff in 2005.  “We shall never forget it, and the great honor of being grand marshal is one that I share with all our NMHS and north Mississippi front-line physicians, chiefly our hospitalists, ER doctors, pulmonologists and my infectious disease colleagues.”  

Dr. Prewitt and her husband, Brad, have been focused on the fun aspects of the parade at home.

“Our twin sons, Brooks and Shaw, Tupelo Middle School eighth graders, are most interested in the vehicle in which I might ride,” Dr. Prewitt said.  “Brooks likes Ford Mustangs with loud mufflers.”

Finding purpose in team

Jason Orman

Environmental Services team leader Jason Orman was among those charged with disinfecting rooms on the COVID-19 unit. As he took on extra steps and precautions, he felt the weight of his duty to protect his NMMC coworkers. 

The past 18 months have illustrated the magic of teamwork for Jason Orman, an Environmental Services team leader at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo.

As he put on a gown, N95 respirator and gloves to deep clean rooms during COVID-19 surges, he knew his work would help to protect patients and his NMMC-Tupelo colleagues.

“I’m relying on others to do their job correctly so I can do my job,” Orman said. “I knew they were taking every precaution to keep us safe.”

Orman, who lives in Nettleton with his wife, Laurisa, and 17-year-old son, Dalton, joined NMMC in February 2020 after working in manufacturing. He has developed a much deeper appreciation for all that goes into health care.

“There’s so much more to it than people realize,” Orman said. “I feel like I’m a part of something a lot bigger.”

Always a vital part of protecting patients, Environmental Services took on even greater importance because of COVID-19. Under normal conditions, it takes about 30 minutes to clean a hospital room, Orman said. Each room on the COVID-19 unit takes an hour to 90 minutes, Orman said. They use the strongest disinfectants, wash the walls and use ultraviolet light to clear the virus and other harmful germs.

“It was overwhelming, but we just had to push through,” Orman said.

Nursing still inspires

Mary Pruitt

Critical Care nurse Mary Pruitt and her colleagues were called “to heal the sick as well as the broken hearts of families and loved ones.”

Critical care nurse Mary Pruitt, RN, BSN, was 10 years old when she first felt the magic of nursing.

“When my little brother (John Heard) was born, I remember the nurse,” Pruitt said. “She seemed to be the most caring person.”

That encounter inspired a nursing career that has spanned more than three decades at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo. Pruitt started at NMMC 36 years ago, immediately after completing her studies as a licensed practical nurse. She worked nights while completing her associate degree to become a registered nurse. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing. She still finds inspiration in caring for patients and their families.

“There’s just something about reaching out to another person,” Pruitt said. “To see a person get better is a miracle in itself.”

Watching the stress and strain that visiting restrictions put on families was one of the most difficult things during pandemic. Pruitt and the rest of the critical care staff would help with phone calls and video chats to keep connections strong.

“You’ve got to stand in the gap for that person,” Pruitt said. “I feel like God uses nurses’ hands to heal the sick as well as the broken hearts of families and loved ones.”

Pruitt’s family and friends have inundated her with excitement since it was announced she would be a grand marshal for the parade.

 “It’s an honor,” to represent nurses, Pruitt said. “I work with some really great people.”

As a child and as an adult, the Pontotoc native has a long, happy history with the Tupelo Christmas Parade.  Pruitt participated as a child and a Girl Scout leader.  Her now grown children, Ashley and William Gabriel, were members of the Tupelo High School Band. Her husband, William, was the Shannon High School band director.

“It was always so much fun,” Pruitt said.        

Grateful to care

Deanna Yates

Respiratory therapist Deanna Yates found caring for patients during the pandemic deeply affected her and her colleagues. 

Respiratory therapist Deanna Yates, RRT, has vivid memories of her first Tupelo Christmas parade.

New to northeast Mississippi, Yates had met and married Don Yates, a Blue Mountain native. Her stepson Caleb was marching in the parade, and Yates went to cheer him on. She had been to parades in bigger towns, but Tupelo’s had something magical.

“You could see all of the heart that went into it,” Yates said.

It has been really touching that the Downtown Main Street Association wanted to honor health care workers as grand marshals for the parade, Yates said.

“I feel like I’m representing everybody and every bit of hard work that goes into delivering health care, not just the last 18 months,” said Yates, who has spent 12 of her 15 years as a respiratory therapist in NMMC Critical Care and Emergency Services.

Yates chose respiratory therapy as a second career, inspired in part by her grandfather’s struggles with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Now she will see former patients in the grocery store and gets a thrill when they ask, “Remember me?”

“The satisfaction of knowing that someone got better – there’s no better feeling than that,” Yates said.

Because of the way COVID-19 attacks the lungs, respiratory therapists have been at the forefront of the pandemic. It has been heartbreaking work.

“It’s been difficult to lose so many patients during the pandemic, especially the young adults during the Delta surge,” Yates said. “We’ve held their hands, so they don’t die alone.”

Teamwork has been the bedrock that has gotten Yates and her colleagues through the pandemic. She and her colleagues have developed an even deeper understanding of the fragility of life.

“I started living my life just a little differently,” Yates said. “It makes you very grateful.”

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