Colorado nurses return from New Jersey after helping out with COVID-19 surge

A nurse hugs her children after returning home from New Jersey (source: Centura Health).
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DENVER, Colo. (KKTV) -- Almost two dozen local nurses are now back home after jumping at the chance to help out those who needed it most.

The nurses left about a month ago to head to New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit places in the country by COVID-19.

On Sunday, they arrived at DIA with many of their families waiting.

There was no shortage of tears as the nurses saw their loved ones for the first time in weeks. They said the experience was a difficult one, but they were humbled to help out.

"It feels so good to be home and it feels so good to see the mountains and refreshing just to see a breath of fresh air even through an N95 mask," said Kim Ozaki, a St. Francis ER nurse.

After weeks on the nation's front lines, the Colorado nurses finally back.

"It feels wonderful and I can't stop crying because ... I never expected it to be such an emotional and physically taxing thing," said Jamie Kinsley, a St. Anthony Summit Medical Center nurse. "I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I couldn't even imagine the conditions that were going on out there."

To date, New Jersey has almost 150,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths. Healthcare workers out there have been exhausted, so they say it was nice to lend a hand.

"They were tired; we got there on the tail end of the surge and some of the stories from the caregivers there ... they had ... people stacked in the halls waiting to be served," Amy King of Centura Health explained. "It was so overrun and overwhelmed, and so having these fresh faces come just to help them and provide just a little bit of reprieve to what they had seen and experienced was helpful to them."

Still, being out east was eye-opening.

"It's very real. It's very hard to think that this pandemic is something that is really out there when you don't see the people that are affected daily," Kinsley said. "But I had patients that we were rushing to do a Zoom call with their loved ones before they passed so that they didn't have to be alone."

Originally, 34 Colorado nurses went to New Jersey to help. The rest of them will come back next week.

Nurses add that although it was mentally and physically exhausting, they would do it again.