OTTAWA -- On the one year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Queensway Carleton Hospital honoured staff in the intensive care unit for their contributions to patient care.

More than 100 staff members were surprised with a "Champions of Care" pin Thursday morning.

This recognition is to thank those who have displayed dedication and compassion while providing extraordinary care.

ICU director Dr. Akshai Iyengar says this is a way for the physician team to thank everyone who contributes to the ICU. 

"During the first and second wave, we saw our staff go through a lot. There was a lot of burnout, so it was really important for us to thank them," says Dr. Iyengar. 

For a time early last year, no hospital was hit harder by the pandemic than QCH.

The ICU at the west end hospital at one time had more COVID-19 positive patients than any other hospital in the region - from Cornwall to Scarborough. 

Queensway Carleton Hospital

Allan Gault performed one of the first protected intubations in the city.

"I remember this is real and this is scary. We had PPE and we took precautions but I remember thinking this patient is terrified. We are doing our best to make sure everything is safe," said Gault. "They are protected and in good hands, they are in great hands, but that was the first time I remember realizing this is real."

Gault says the hardest part is knowing his patients are not surrounded by their loved ones.

"People are at their lowest, who are completely and utterly defenceless, trusting complete strangers... We are there at peoples’ worst and we will continue to be there," says Gault. 

ICU registered nurse Theresa Hagerman was also honoured. 

"It was very emotional, lots of tears. Just the relief of being recognized for the work that has been going on and the sacrifices made this past year really was very emotional for me."

Hagerman says the past year has been extremely challenging.

"I have seen patients that are impacted, patients that have been very sick and gotten better and I have seen patients that have been very sick and passed away and families aren’t able to be at their sides. And that takes a toll of everyone."

The pin has a special design and comes with a donation to the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation in their honour. Foundation president and CEO Shannon Gorman says Thursday’s ceremony was emotional.

"They are resilient, kind compassionate, and the patients come first every step of the way. And to see physicians recognize their team in such a meaningful way... it has been incredible."