Throggs Neck resident Desiree Guzman is the definition of a fighter. She grew up in a crime ridden area, was stabbed and beat cancer.
Today, Guzman, 42, has been at Jacobi Hospital for 20 years and has been the coordinating manager of the emergency department for the past decade. In December 2020, she was recognized for her service during the past nine months of the pandemic and given the Frederick O’Reilly Hayes Coronavirus Crisis Response Award.
This award was established by the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services to identify exceptional New York City employees like Guzman who have made meaningful and measurable contributions to the City during the pandemic.
“There were many heroes within the walls of Jacobi who responded to this pandemic by going above and beyond,” said CEO and Executive Director Christopher Mastromano. “Desiree’s story is representative of so many other Jacobi heroes as she truly rose to the challenges before her.”
When COVID-19 struck New York City in March, Guzman like so many other Jacobi employees leapt into action. She helped manage the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) areas, external (tents) treatment zones and increased the emergency department’s capacity by expanding holding areas and pediatric emergency rooms.
She also took upon herself the emotionally difficult task of managing communication between COVID-19 patients and their family members, ensuring they got to use an iPad to speak with and see their loved ones.
Guzman, like many of her colleagues, at the peak of the coronavirus, worked 42 days straight or more.
Her supervisor, Janice Halloran, associate executive director of operations, nominated her.
“She truly deserves to be recognized for her outstanding, tireless commitment to the community that Jacobi serves,” Halloran said. “She fights for the patients of Jacobi to get the care they deserve.”
Guzman’s path to success was not easy. She grew up in a rough neighborhood at 170th and Grand Concourse and went to Taft High School, which was known for crime and a student killing his teacher.
Raised by her mom, Silvia Fernandez and grandmother, Tira Seda, she stayed out of trouble, but witnessed the drugs, gangs and crime on a daily basis.
“I saw a lot of things a child shouldn’t have seen,” she explained.
However, at age 17, Guzman fell victim to the violence when she was stabbed outside of her school in attempted robbery where the knife missed her spine by an inch.
But, she survived and kept her head on the right path.
“I laugh about it now, but it was scary” Guzman said.
Neither of her parents had graduated high school and her grandmother, who passed away 18 years ago, always stressed how important education was.
“Growing up she used to tell me she wanted me to be the example,” she recalled.
Seeing all the crime and being part of it firsthand, inspired her to be a cop. So, she went to the police academy and was set to join law enforcement when a required physical revealed she had cancer.
This came as a total shock. Guzman immediately underwent six months of chemo and has been healthy since 1999. She was told she could reapply, but that same year, got pregnant and her priorities changed.
But, what really pushed her in a different direction was the care she received while sick.
“Seeing the dedication of the nurses, doctors and everybody else that was helping me made me feel that being a cop wasn’t my calling,” she explained.
Guzman joined Jacobi in 2001 as a clerk in the pediatric emergency room and slowly worked her way up the corporate ladder.
She recalled that about six months into her job a car came screeching in front of the building and woman ran in holding her bleeding child saying ”save my son.”
“The screaming from the mother changed me,” she said. “That made me feel like this is what I need to do”
Over the years she grew to love working at Jacobi and in the medical field. It became a second family, but nothing could have prepared for COVID-19.
Not only were patients of all ages coming in sick and dying, but many of her colleagues were as well. It was the emotionally draining and the toughest time of her career.
Short on PPE, they did their best and often worked 18 or 19 hour days.
Today, her plate is more than full. She has two kids, in school for her master’s in hospital administration at Monroe College and is in fear of a second wave of the virus.
“My colleagues and I were doing our jobs and we ask that everyone help us by protecting yourselves- socially distance, wear masks and sanitize your hands regularly so we all do not have to go through this again,” Guzman said.