JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Dr. Talha Mehmood paused Tuesday to look over a display of luminarias at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center honoring those who died from COVID-19.

Mehmood stepped over to a table and wrote the name “Luke” on one of the extra luminaria bags. After adding “you were awesome!” below the name, Mehmood crouched down and added Luke’s luminaria to the display in the hospital’s Atrium.

Dozens of paper luminaries are on display Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, to honor patients, staff and family members from Conemaugh Health System who were lost to COVID-19.

Mehmood is an attending physician in Conemaugh Memorial’s intensive care unit and was among those on hand for a service Tuesday honoring COVID-19 victims.

“He was my patient,” Meh- mood said. “He was 28 years old. He was a big Avengers fan and he loved Marvel movies. His name was Luke and I called him Luke Skywalker because I’m a Star Wars fan and an Avengers fan.

“Tragically, he didn’t make it.”

Dr. Elizabeth Dunmore, chief medical officer, said Tuesday’s service was held to recognize those who died from COVID-19 and to reach out to families.

“Most importantly, it was to reach out to our own community here at Conemaugh,” Dunmore said. “This has been a very difficult time for everybody. By recognizing when things are sad and hard and when we are grieving. When we bear witness to that, it can allow us to heal. That’s part of the healing process.”

Hospital employees Barb Zimmerman and Toni Allen, who are both COVID-19 survivors, were featured speakers for the service.

Both thanked the front-line workers for their compassion and professional care.

Allen was undergoing a series of cancer treatments when she was taken to the hospital on Thanksgiving night last year and diagnosed with COVID-19.

“There’s a sense of community through all this,” Allen said. “I just praise God for all of you who take care of all of us.”

Zimmerman and her son Christopher were both diagnosed with COVID-19. Christopher became seriously ill, experiencing kidney failure.

“Even in his darkest days, they rallied him,” Zimmerman said.

“We are family here.”

Dunmore said organizers selected survivors as speakers because “it’s part of this whole message of bearing witness to how challenging this time has been and how difficult – but also to show some stories of hope and survival in the midst of grief.”

Similar events were held Tuesday at Conemaugh Meyersdale, Conemaugh Miners and Conemaugh Nason medical centers.

Hospital employees placed initials of patients and names of loved ones who died from the virus on luminarias that were displayed at each facility. 

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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