OKLAHOMA CITY – The “Home Run For Life” series returns for its 10th season in 2021 as the Oklahoma City Dodgers and INTEGRIS Health partner to recognize three central Oklahoma medical professionals who have been significantly impacted personally and professionally by the COVID-19 pandemic.
INTEGRIS Health employees Joe Alesch, Jennifer Carmen and Charles Maines will be honored during Friday’s OKC Dodgers game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark that starts at 7:05 p.m. against the Sacramento River Cats.
“Home Run For Life” recognizes individuals in the Oklahoma City community who have overcome a significant medical event with the help of their families, physicians and health care professionals. To symbolize the end of their battle against adversity, honorees take a prerecorded home run “lap” around the bases during an in-game ceremony.
“’Home Run For Life’ allows us to uniquely recognize some amazing Oklahomans who have endured significant health challenges,” OKC Dodgers President/General Manager Michael Byrnes said. “Each month during the baseball season, we are proud to partner with INTEGRIS Health to honor the perseverance and courage displayed by these individuals and to help inspire others with their incredible stories.”
Medical professionals and caregivers have worked tirelessly on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic assisting patients while enduring long hours and unprecedented hardships. But the toll the pandemic has taken on many of these individuals can extend far beyond work.
Many health care workers caring for others have done so while also suffering themselves as the pandemic took a personal turn and came home, affecting them as well as their families.
The stories and experiences of Alesch, Carmen and Maines are all vastly different, but all shared a renewed perspective on what they believe is most important in life — spending precious time with family, friends and those you love.
“Life is a blessing,” Maines said. “I’ve tried to slow down a little bit…we’re going to start enjoying life.”
Maines, 53, works in the COVID-19 unit at INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center and said without a doubt this has been the toughest year of his career. He lives in Elmore City with his wife and triplet daughters, and has worked as a registered nurse for 20 years, including 15 years with INTEGRIS Health.
During the summer of 2020, Maines found himself on the other side of his work as a patient diagnosed with a severe case of COVID-19. He went to the emergency room at INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center, was admitted to the hospital and later spent five days in the intensive care unit. He has since returned to work.
“I am on one side as a nurse seeing patients and it’s really hard to see it from the other side until you are there,” he said. “When you are lying in that bed and you are helpless. You can’t breathe. You’re struggling for air. It’s like drowning underwater. It’s scary. You don’t have your family there.”
He adds, “I have a different perspective on what my patients go through now. I empathize more with them now. I’m a little more, gentler, with my nursing care. It wasn’t a fun experience, but it helped my nursing.”
Within a matter of weeks, COVID-19 upended Carmen’s life and family.
She had just lost her mother to the disease in mid-December 2020 and was admitted to the hospital with the disease herself on New Year’s Day 2021.
The 44-year-old registered nurse at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center became a patient at the same hospital she works at and where she specializes in kidney transplants. She endured a 12-day hospital stay, including time in the ICU and in the same unit where she lost her mother just weeks before.
“I could see her room from where I was sitting and I was fighting for my life as well,” Carmen said. “My fight is for her.”
Carmen was able to return home to be with her husband and two children in south Oklahoma City. She returned to work in March on light duty and is now back working full time with INTEGRIS Health.
“I am very thankful for my life and am very thankful I am able to be a mom again because so many people didn’t get that opportunity,” she said.
Joe Alesch, 61, worked 26 years at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center as a respiratory therapist before retiring in August 2019.
He was enjoying the start of his retirement with his wife of 37 years, Ann, his daughters and grandchildren when COVID-19 struck his family in April 2020 and his father passed away from the disease. COVID-19 would also soon call him back to work.
As Alesch grieved, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened in Oklahoma City.
In November 2020, he received a call from a former co-worker who said they could use his help at the hospital if he was interested in returning to work. He was and did, joining the staff at INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center in December to help patients suffering from the same disease that took his father’s life.
The resident of western Oklahoma City had been talking about potentially going back to work, so when he had the opportunity to do so locally, he said he couldn’t say no.
“I think I got out of it more than they did personally,” Alesch said.
The journey has also brought a fresh view on life and what is important.
“I’ve lost a lot,” Alesch said. “I’ve lost my dad. I was just getting to know my dad. Those of you who have parents, I can say please get to know them now and don’t wait until I did until they are older. (I’m grateful) I got to know my dad a lot better in his last years.”
To read the full stories of Alesch, Carmen and Maines, visit the OKC Dodgers’ “Beyond the Bricks” website at: medium.com/beyond-the-bricks.
Upcoming for the OKC Dodgers
The OKC Dodgers open the home portion of their 2021 season at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark against the Sacramento River Cats. The teams meet again at 7:05 p.m. Friday, with fireworks slated to follow both games.
The six-game series continues at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, 2:05 p.m. Sunday, 7:05 p.m. Monday and wraps up at 7:05 p.m. on a $2 Tuesday, featuring $2 Pepsi products, bottled water and select beer.
Tickets to all May and June OKC Dodgers home games can be purchased through okcdodgers.com/tickets. For general information or inquiries, please visit okcdodgers.com or call (405) 218-2182.
Live radio coverage of each OKC Dodgers game begins 15 minutes before first pitch on AM 1340 "The Game," 1340thegame.com and through the free iHeartRadio or MiLB First Pitch apps. All OKC Dodgers games are also available streamed live on MiLB.TV with a subscription.