ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Picture this: It’s March 2020. The World Health Organization just declared Coronavirus a global pandemic. At home, Abilene City Council meetings just went virtual, local nonprofits are cancelling events, the Big Country Balloon Fest- which was planned to be months away- already canceled, and staffs at area hospitals and clinics are being hit with difficult news.
“[The] next thing I know, my boss is coming, saying, ‘hey, your floor is going to be the Covid floor,'” Elisha Riggens with Hendrick Medical Center recalled of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Abilene.
She was supposed to be on the front lines, while the rest of us were concerned with cancelled sports around the country and how we were going to eat at our favorite restaurants.
This was also when KTAB/KRBC reported its first COVID case in the Big Country.
A short four months later, in July, the first Abilenian was vaccinated. A year after that, Mayor Anthony Williams made an important announcement.
“I’m thankful that my wife, son and I are asymptomatic,” Williams said. The mayor had the virus, as well. A virus that, at this point, had taken nearly 121,000 lives- on a national scale.
“How can you battle an enemy that you can’t see and feel,” Williams asked.
Come September 2021, Stephen Gleitz, Director for Critical Care Services at Hendrick, found himself in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Abilene, also on the front lines.
“It’s kind of like you’re under water and you can come up to breathe, but you kind of go back down… So it’s just that struggle,” Gleitz illustrated.
By the Fall of 2021, although it’s known as the height of COVID in the Big Country, residents were eager to return back to some sense of ‘normal.’
With that, the Abilene Zoo was able to set attendance records, the West Texas Fair and Rodeo went off as planned- but Hendrick was setting records of its own.
“They just kept coming and that was the hardest part, ” Gleitz said. It was a time at Hendrick that brought them together like never before.
“I mean these are basically our families away from our home,” Gleitz said. “We spend a lot of time up here, we see a lot of things and go through a lot of struggles and challenges with them and so we’re a close knit team.”
Hendrick even commemorated that dark time with a painting of the light guiding front line workers like Stephen and Elisha.