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After Orlando Shootings, Temple’s ER Staff Pays It Forward

POSTED ON June 30, 2016

By Michael Vitez

Dara Del Collo, Nurse at Temple University Hospital

A week after last year’s crash of Amtrak 188, a stack of pizzas arrived in Temple University Hospital’s emergency department.

They were from San Francisco General hospital, paid for with donations from the emergency room staff out there. The San Francisco staff had received pizzas in July of 2013 after it cared for scores of victims in a plane crash at San Francisco’s airport. 

And now the Bay Area nurses were paying forward the kindness to Philadelphia.

Temple charge nurse Dara Del Collo took the call that day, alerting her that the pizzas were on the way and the reason for it.

It's appropriate that Del Collo, 48, took the call.

“Dara is always the one who wants to do something,” said fellow nurse Smita Herbert. “She’s always the one who thinks up this stuff.”

When Philadelphia police officer Robert Wilson was fatally shot in March of 2015, after stopping in to buy a video game for his son on Lehigh Avenue, Del Collo, one of the nurses who helped try to save him, rounded up $3,500 in donations over the next several days for his family, and enough money to buy pizzas for all three shifts at the 22nd police precinct.

Ever since the day the San Francisco ER staff sent pizzas, Del Collo said, “I knew it was our turn. 

“With the pay it forward,” she said, “you have to hold up your end of the stick.”

A year went by. She never stopped thinking about it. 

On June 9, a Thursday, literally three days before a terrorist with an assault rifle killed 49 people and injured 53 others in an Orlando nightclub, Del Collo reminded two fellow nurses, “We still haven’t done our pay it forward yet.”

The nightmare in Orlando changed that.

She sent out a system wide email: “Hey, we had our pay it forward with Amtrak, and this is our pay it forward with Orlando…” She also put the message on Facebook. Contributions flooded in from nurses, veteran ER docs, residents, techs, secretaries, administrators, the transport team.

In a week she had $1,840.

It just so happens that Rebecca Dean is a traveling nurse who is spending three months in the Temple ER. She is from Orlando, and often works at Orlando Regional Medical Center. She broke into tears and hugged Del Collo the moment she heard what Del Collo and Temple colleagues were planning to do.

Del Collo decided to step it up.

“We’re getting a lot of money,” she told her fellow nurses. “We’re going to do more than pizza.”

Dean recommended Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, well known to the ED staff. On Saturday, exactly two weeks after the shooting, platters of brisket, chicken, pork, slaw, rolls, mac and cheese and Caesar salad were delivered – first at lunch for the day shift and again with dinner for the night shift, enough food for 145 staffers in the Orlando ED.

“This was the same crew there for the shooting,” said Del Collo.

This made her feel good.

“Being on this side of it,” she said, “and knowing what it’s like to go through that, even not just mass casualties, just things that affect you, an officer getting shot, or whatever we deal with as an emergency room, it was kind of like `Hey, we know what you dealt with. And we appreciate it. We’re all a team.’ 

“It’s kind of crazy that Rebecca was here and able to help,” she added

Dean has been in touch with a good friend of hers, Jamie Sorenson Hahn, a nurse who worked the night of the shooting and who told her the Orlando ED staff “deeply appreciated” the Philadelphia gesture and has never eaten so well. 

“They felt loved and supported,” Dean said.

“It was healing for so certain for so many,” Dean added. “Especially for those who had been on hand and worked so hard that night to help our community. I've had many of my coworkers tell me how touched they were and how much it helped, and for that I'll be forever grateful.”

The tradition apparently is long standing. The pizzas that San Francisco General received in July 2013 had been sent by the ED staff at Mass General Hospital, which had received tremendous love after caring for victims the Boston Marathon Bombings in April of 2013. 

And hospitals in New York received pizzas after 9/11.

“This has been a tradition for as long as I have been an emergency medicine physician in that we pay respects to our fellow emergency departments during times of tragedy,” said Dr. Malini K Singh, a UCSF physician who staffs the trauma center at what is now called Zuckerberg San Francisco General and who trained in New York during 9/11.

“We all know how it feels when there is the call for action and we are it,” said Singh. “We all pay it forward. Together.”

Orlando Regional Medical Center staff


Michael Vitez, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, is the new Director of Narrative Medicine at Lewis Katz School of Medicine. He believes storytelling is an indispensable part of medicine. His mission is to focus on the human side of medicine, to bring a sense of wonder to life inside the hospital and medical school, and to encourage staff and students to reflect and share their stories. He can be reached at Michael.Vitez@temple.edu and michaelvitez.com/blog.