14:05 PM

Wexner Medical Center takes the field

COVID-19 health care warriors participate in Spring Game coin toss

This wasn’t the way either of them had imagined spending their Saturday, but really, what could be better?

The thump of the marching band bass drums, the flash of a cheerleader’s silvery pom-pom, Brutus stooping to kiss the boot of Infectious Diseases Division Director Susan Koletar, who’d fractured her right ankle two months earlier pretending the floor was lava with a friend’s grandchildren. It was all so loud and exciting, and critical care nurse Anne Spiller made it a point to let it wash over her, to drink in the sounds and the sights and make it something she’d remember.

“I’m just going to take this in,” Spiller had said, just before she and Koletar left a suite at Ohio Stadium Saturday and went down to the field for the coin toss at The Ohio State University football’s famed Spring Game.

They’d found out a few days before that they’d been chosen for the honor, a recognition of their dedication during the grueling days of the previous year and a celebration of the heroics of health care workers everywhere. While they both considered themselves merely representatives of their teams, they were inarguably good ones: Koletar, an infectious diseases expert who’s been at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center for 33 years, has been a leader in COVID-19 vaccination and prevention efforts throughout the state and the Big Ten Conference. Spiller, a nurse for 35 years — 24 of them at Ohio State — has continuously been at the bedside of COVID-19 patients as a member of the Medical Intensive Care Unit.

“It’s been the most challenging year of my nursing career,” Spiller said. “But we’ve gotten through it really well as a team.”

She thought of that as she woke up Saturday morning — this whole idea of teamwork, of the way we’ve carried one another, especially throughout the past year, when one of us can’t summon the strength. It reminded her of where she was headed that day — to watch one of the country’s best football teams as its latest class learned how to prop one another up and find their collective way into the end zone.

Teamwork was on Koletar’s mind, too, as she thought through the quick progress in the battle against COVID-19, light speed compared to the response to HIV, the virus that started her career.

“It’s really been an effort of solidarity and commitment to get through this,” she said. “And I think and I hope that same sense of community will continue.”

Buckeyes know a thing or two about community, which is why so many show up every year to what is essentially a public scrimmage. On Saturday, nearly 20,000 fans, many of them front-line medical center staff, speckled the Spring Game stands, appropriately masked and spaced 6 feet apart as Ohio State tested out new safety protocols for the 2021 fall season. It was a marked difference from the past season, which had been without fans, cheerleaders, Brutus and the band. This time, Brutus was there. The spirit squad was there. The band was there, and a few feet away in a golf cart, Spiller and Koletar were there, waiting to flip a coin.

They both wore Ohio State-themed masks. Koletar’s gray boot complemented Spiller’s scarlet windbreaker. When the clock struck noon, they headed to the 50-yard line, Koletar pushing along the turf on a scooter (“like rolling on carpet,” she said), joined by none other than Buckeyes Head Coach Ryan Day, who walked over to thank them for their work.

The two had discussed who might toss the coin and, after a few wobbly practice attempts with a quarter, Spiller had deferred to Koletar — though a referee ended up throwing it anyway (also, for future reference, the coin is much larger than a quarter). When he called out Koletar as an honorary captain, applause filled the stadium.

And then it was over, and they headed off the field and back to the third-floor suite to watch the game, greeted by cheers from some of their team members.

“It was fun, and completely not what I expected to do this Saturday,” Koletar said. “I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to do this, especially in honor of my team.”

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