Caroline Accardi: A COVID Nurse’s Story

Caroline Accardi’s father Frank is an ophthalmologist. At the start of his career he saw physicians refusing to treat HIV patients, because they feared the deadly disease.

“Doctors take an oath to help everyone,” he told his daughter.

That made a big impression on her. Her mother Ellen was a role model too. A cardiac ICU nurse by training, she now sells heart defibrillators and teaches CPR.

Caroline’s younger brother Andrew battled neuroblastoma for 15 years. She helped care for him. When he died in 2013 — just 20 years old — her goal of serving in the medical profession was cemented.

Caroline Accardi, in her scrubs.

After graduating from Staples High School in 2010 and James Madison University 4 years later, Caroline earned a nursing degree. Since 2016 she’s been part of the post-anesthetic care unit at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery.

She’s in the recovery room with patients after hip and knee replacements, and spinal surgery. When Governor Cuomo halted all non-essential medical procedures in mid-March, her hospital dropped from 60 to 80 cases a day, to 5 to 15. (Those were emergencies, like broken hips.)

For 2 weeks, Caroline had little to do. She saw so many other nurses doing so much. “It was such a helpless feeling,” she recalls.

The Hospital for Special Surgery is connected by a bridge to New York Presbyterian. When that facility was flooded with coronavirus patients, those who were not infected were moved to Caroline’s hospital. But so many people got sick, the Hospital for Special Surgery soon took them too.

Her hospital turned 9 operating rooms into makeshift ICUs. The strategy was to contain the virus in those special units.

Caroline Accardi at work.

Quickly, she says, “we went from taking care of healthy, recovering patients, to treating very, very sick people.”

She relied on training from nursing school she had not had to use before. “The tasks were the same, but the critical thinking was different,” she explains. “My brain had to make a total shift in how I looked at things.”

The Hospital for Special Surgery treated COVID patients throughout April. “We were there for hours at a time,” Caroline says. “The teamwork was incredible.”

As a private hospital, they were fortunate to have plenty of PPE on hand. Caroline work a gown over her scrubs; an N95 mask, with a regular mask over that; 2 hairnets; an enormous face shield, and 2 pairs of gloves. She felt “very protected.”

Despite all her PPE, Caroline Accardi added a personal touch.

Yet the days were long, and physically and emotionally draining. At one point there were 20 patients in ICU. At least one or two died every day.

“People were on ventilators so much longer than usual,” Caroline says. “And no families could visit. We had to explain over the phone how sick their loved ones were. They had to make life-or-death decisions without being there.

“As nurses, we want people to die with dignity. Families had to say goodbye to people they knew would die alone.”

Many patients had underlying health conditions. Some did not. And some were in their 30s and 40s.

When the last COVID patient left on April 30, Caroline saw “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Neighboring hospitals too were less overwhelmed.

“What everyone is doing — all the social distancing and following guidelines — is working,” she notes.

Still, elective surgeries will not be scheduled until everyone feels safe.

The Hospital for Special Surgery has taken care of its patients — and staff. Personnel received 2 bonuses, and can take days off with 80% pay if there are no cases.

Of course, it will take a long time to return to whatever the new “normal” is.

But when we’re there, Caroline Accardi will be there doing exactly what she always dreamed of doing, and has always done: helping others.

32 responses to “Caroline Accardi: A COVID Nurse’s Story

  1. Barbara Mathias

    Thank you to Caroline! I was a patient of her fathers for many yers in NYC, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…hope Frank is doing well too! Would love to see him again!

  2. David Squires

    Another Great Story about another Great Westport Family!
    Thank You Caroline for Going The Extra Mile, and Thank You Dan for the continued coverage!
    Proud to be an 06880er (more precisely, an 06838er)…

  3. Diane Johnson

    What a great post on a terrific young woman! Thank you, Dan, for highlighting Caroline’s work and thank you, Caroline, for your dedication and care on the front lines of this pandemic. You make us all proud – for your work and for being a wonderful person to boot!

  4. Christine Accardi

    So proud of you Ca!!! You are such a role model. Love you

  5. Arantxa Mateo

    Beautiful story. Thanks!

  6. Another great story about a Westport unsung hero.
    Bless you Caroline

  7. Susan Saracena

    Thank you for your dedication Caroline. Andrew would be so proud of you.

  8. Cathleen O'Brien

    I had the pleasure of working with and learning from Caroline and the amazing HSS PACU staff as a new graduate RN in 2018. I have no doubt they brought their usual “A” game and rose to the incredible challenge of caring for such sick patients with compassion and clinical excellence. So proud of you all, Caroline! You are an inspiration. I hope you are staying well.

  9. Daryl Styner

    Caroline,
    A big thank you to you & your colleagues for all that you do everyday for your patients, but, especially in an emergency how instinctively you jump in as a team to to save lives and achieve the best possible outcome.

    You are the heroes, and “angels on earth” we all pray for when the extraordinary need(s) arises.

  10. Fred Cantor

    We are all indebted to you and your colleges. Many thanks.

  11. Clark Thiemann

    Thank you for making the big shift here and taking on patients that are way sicker than the ones you normally see. All of us at home really appreciate the work you’re doing to save lives!

    Thank you also for putting your name and the smiley face on your mask. At a time when the amount of PPE necessarily worn makes medical workers look a lot less friendly, little pieces of humanity and kindness mean a lot.

  12. Allan Cameron

    Caroline! This is your 5th-grade teacher from Long Lots, Allan Cameron. Thank you so much for being such an amazing person. You are a modern-day superhero. Keep fighting the good fight!

    • Caroline Accardi

      Hi Mr. Cameron! So great to hear from you after so long. Thank you for reaching out. Hope you are safe and healthy!

  13. Ernie Lorimer

    Without intending to take anything away from this uplifting story, I’m curious about how funding works for Hospital for Special Surgery now.

    I recall once hearing that it was out of network for almost everybody, and folks who had investigated having knee replacements, etc., there found it was well out of their price range.

    So I wonder if you were moved over to HSS for Covid or non-Covid care, are you now billed out of network? Were you told or given a choice?

    • Caroline is a Nurse, doing the work that Nurses do – care and care for. If you need information regarding Billing, I suggest you contact the Business office at HHS. Bless you Caroline and all your co-workers. So proud! Stay safe!

    • Dr. Frank Accardi

      Thank you for your thoughtful and measured comments.
      You are almost certainly correct in that the question regarding insurances perhaps not particularly germane to this forum.
      I understand that because in some instances of the unique abilities and expertise of a number of world class doctors at HSS they do not accept insurance.
      They take on the most difficult and high profile surgeries worldwide.
      However it is completely possible to see National figures in medicine and surgery at HSS who do indeed take insurance.
      The same men and women do the same job for the same people every day of their working lives in most of the weekends. They are indeed every day heroes
      I am not affiliated with HSS and I can tell you from personal experience that this is possible.
      I can promise you that HSS not only makes a major investment in training ,maintaining and advancing all their staff but that unlike many other private high profile hospitals in the New York City their staff was PPE outfitted from the beginning.

    • Dr. Frank Accardi

      Thank you for your thoughtful and measured comments.
      You are almost certainly correct in that the question regarding insurances perhaps not particularly germane to this forum.
      I understand that because in some instances of the unique abilities and expertise of a number of world class doctors at HSS they do not accept insurance.
      They take on the most difficult and high profile surgeries worldwide.
      However it is completely possible to see National figures in medicine and surgery at HSS who do indeed take insurance.
      The same men and women do the same job for the same people every day of their working lives in most of the weekends. They are indeed every day heroes
      I am not affiliated with HSS and I can tell you from personal experience that this is possible.
      I can promise you that HSS not only makes a major investment in training ,maintaining and advancing all their staff but that unlike many other private high profile hospitals in the New York City their staff was PPE outfitted from the beginning.

  14. Enia Noonan

    Bravissima, Carolina! Sei un vero tesoro.

  15. Susan Hopkins

    Thank you, Caroline. Abundant blessings to you and all front-line caregivers.

    Thank you, Dan, for another uplifting story. Loving your musical selections as well.

  16. I’m so proud of you Caroline! It was a big transition and you did it with grace and professionalism! You are A#1, NYC is very lucky to have you! Love ya, Aunt Alice

  17. Ann Urciuoli Allard

    God Bless and 🙏 thank you to all the nurses docs and hospital staff

  18. Cecilia Duffy

    You are amazing Caroline! Thank you and all the healthcare workers working so hard and making so many sacrifices to keep us all safe!

  19. Shoba Murali

    Caroline – thank you so very much for your selfless work. You are so young and have seen a lot and given a lot. May all the goodwill power you through your difficult days. We are grateful to youth like you and hope with the support of young folks like you we will shine the light to see a brighter future for all of us.

  20. Sheila Maher

    How wonderful. God bless you and your service and selfless Dedication to caring for the sickest patients.

  21. You are special Caroline! I know your parent are proud. Thank you

  22. Frannie Southworth

    May God bless Caroline and all of her co-workers out on the front lines helping others so selflessly. Thank you all.

  23. Joseph W. Dicembri

    All we can say is God Bless Her. We sit in our homes retired and only going out when necessary. Seeing our children and grandchildren has become an event. This disease has been a boil in our sides, and all we can do is wait. Our niece is out there kicking ass and taking names to alleviate the situation. I know I can be a little crude, but most people know what I am saying. We have three children, one works in a hospital at NYU, one is a firefighter in the South Bronx, and one is a police officer in Rockland County, so we know how first responders work. You go girl, we are all proud of you and love you with all our hearts.

  24. Adrienne Dicembri

    Very proud of you Caroline. You are a hero today and everyday.

  25. Although we don’t know each other in person I grew up knowing of you and your family specifically as our mother’s have been best friends forever! It has always been under the happiest of circumstances that I have seen your parents, primarily at weddings, and they always had pride in their voices and love in their hearts when speaking of their children. Naturally I always knew of Andrew’s courageousness, but after reading this article I can see that it must be a family trait passed on from your dedicated parents. I applaud you for your valiant efforts in keeping this pandemic in as much control as possible, and for treating your patients with the love and dignity they deserve when literally on their deathbeds, feeling utterly lost and alone. For many you might have been the last face they saw before they left this world, and for them that was surely a gift. To have been cared for by someone filled with so much empathy and compassion is something everyone would wish for at the end. I applaud you and your fellow coworkers who truly had to set all of your everyday training aside, and get down into the trenches to help contain this virus that blew up out of control. Without the brave men and women who have jumped in, sacrificing your own health, we as New Yorker’s would be in a much worse place. I myself, had knee surgery at your hospital several years ago and can attest to getting the very best care I ever received at any medical facility at your hospital. I wouldn’t think twice about returning when in need, you’re simply the BEST! Thank you Caroline. You are an inspiration and an everyday hero. Please keep healthy and safe, your family has already sacrificed more then any should have to. Love from Anita Pfisterer’s daughter, Pattianne.

  26. Adrienne Josephine Dicembri

    May God give you the strength to carry on in your chosen profession . There are many looking down on you and bursting with pride. You are one of many in our family who gives back to society, each in a different way. Be proud of your accomplishments , they are very noble , not all can do what you do.

  27. I/we always knew you would go and do special things with your life’s work and here is the proof. Your “old” uncle is very proud of you.

  28. Chris Gray

    I’m SO proud of your, Caroline! You’re an amazing person in your own right, from an amazing family…Keep up the GREAT work!!