FIU alumna Brenda Lagares is a nurse on the frontlines of the pandemic response in New York City — the largest epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States with more than 64,000 cases.
For Lagares, it started with an urgent call from a medical recruiting company one morning last month. They needed nurses for a drive-thru coronavirus testing center in the city.
For 10 days, she would wake up at 4 a.m. and arrive to the testing site after dawn where she’d put on her personal protective equipment — mask, face shield, gloves, gown. For the first three days, Lagares helped administer tests. For the next week, she was promoted to quality control, responsible for helping nurses at the testing site follow protocol and safely perform their duties.
The medical staff at the testing sites work long days, between 14 to 16 hours. On average, Lagares helped test more than 250 people each day. In total, she helped test thousands during her time at the site.
“I loved working with the nurses and doctors, especially their resilience, commitment and compassion,” Lagares said. “It was incredible to witness how many health care providers are willing to risk their lives for the greater good.”
Although the days were tiring, it was her fellow doctors and nurses that continued to inspire Lagares. She knew resting — or any time away from the testing site — would mean one less hand of support in a city that needs every hand it can get.
Healthcare workers on the frontlines are facing the most unimaginable, unprecedented experience of their careers. Lagares, though, embodies the spirit of New York. Perseverance. Dedication. Community. That’s because she is a New Yorker — born and raised in the city.
The first in her family to go to college, Lagares earned her associate degree from Valencia College. Then she transferred to FIU where she completed her bachelor’s in biological sciences. As an undergraduate, she worked in FIU biologist Ligia Collado-Vides’ Marine Macroalgae Research Lab.
Lagares always wanted to combine her love for science and helping people. She knew nursing was the perfect fit.
When she returned home to New York, she started saving money for nursing school. With her experience at FIU’s Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL), she took a job tutoring local high school students and later decided to teach biology at a high school in Harlem.
“My interest has always been to learn as much as possible,” Lagares said. “I am a lifelong learner and I hope to someday give back by becoming a nursing educator.”
In 2016, she enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) to complete the required coursework she needed to enter nursing school. During this time, she used her background in biology to get a paid internship at Rockefeller University where she worked with researchers who were studying HIV. One day, while working in the lab, she missed a call. When she called back she received the news she was accepted into the nursing program.
Lagares knows her work is far from over. Soon, she will return to work, either at a hospital or another testing site. For now, her job is to go where she is needed most by her fellow New Yorkers.
“The virus is insidious, fast, sneaky and very unforgiving,” she said. “I am fearful, but I have always wanted to help others. Things aren’t always perfect, but with perseverance, faith, patience, creativity, discipline and some great mentors — the impossible can become possible.”
Angela Nicoletti contributed to this story.