Nurses who cared for Illinois' first COVID-19 patients get vaccinated at St. Alexius

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The first known person in the U.S. to contract COVID-19 from someone in the country is thanking the people who helped him pull through.

Healthcare workers at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates who treated that first COVID-19 patient are now getting their vaccinations.

"Excitement and hope. It has been a long road," St. Alexius nurse Alyssa Miller said.

"Roll up your sleeve, bite the bullet, and take the vaccine," said Lynwood Jones, medical director for infection control at St. Alexius. "I think the problem is that over the past year we have seen enough people sick and enough people die."

The inoculations come nearly one year after St. Alexius became the first hospital in the state of Illinois to treat COVID-19 patients.

"Back then, we did not have a lot of information. It was scary for the front-line workers and the public," St. Alexius nurse Claire Antemann said.

Illinois' first known COVID-19 patients were Tom Panocha and his wife.

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"They just did a really good job taking care of me," he said, becoming emotional. "They treated me like a person, not an illness. So I appreciated what they did."



"They tested me for COVID and I was positive, so they admitted me into the hospital," Tom Panocha said.

Back in January, the suburban couple was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Panocha said his wife contracted the virus in Wuhan, China, then came home and spread the illness to him.

"It was almost two weeks before I found out that I had it and I did not think I was sick," Panocha said.

The hospital staff were there for him all the way through.

"They just did a really good job taking care of me," he said, becoming emotional. "They treated me like a person, not an illness. So I appreciated what they did."

Panocha is currently taking part in a CDC study. The 69-year-old said he is ready for the vaccine when he gets the ok.

"I would definitely do it. I trust the professionals," he said.

He's urging others to also listen to the medical staff that helped save his life and so many others.

"Thank you and I love you all! I cannot be prouder of what you do," Panocha said.
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