Wave after wave of sick patients kept coming.

They were stricken with COVID-19, facing uncertainty of their fate as the novel coronavirus attacked their lungs. They were struggling to breathe and were scared.

Inside hospitals and medical facilities around the United States, doctors, nurses and staff members were overwhelmed with people struggling to survive the virus. Three years after the pandemic’s start, 0ne central Indiana health care system wants to recognize their work to keep so many alive.

To recognize the extraordinary efforts of its staff throughout the pandemic, Franciscan Health Indianapolis has planned a memorial to be installed at the hospital’s entrance. An identical sculpture is to be placed at the entrance of Franciscan Health Mooresville.

“We wanted to find a lasting and proper way to honor all of those who answered the call to duty throughout the pandemic ordeal,” said Sister Marlene Shapley, vice president of mission integration for Franciscan Health Central Indiana. “At every level, they tirelessly have given their all to deliver an unparalleled depth of compassionate care to the patients we are privileged to serve. This memorial will serve as a permanent reminder to all about our staff’s unwavering professionalism and dedication.”

Hospital officials have worked with local artist Ryan Feeney of Indianapolis, who is best known for his bronze statue of former Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, which greets visitors to Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

Feeney, who also works as firefighter for the Indianapolis Fire Department, felt moved to take on the project.

“It’s an honor to be able to celebrate doctors and nurses, and to be able to make something for them,” he said.

The idea to commemorate the work during the pandemic started with a request to do something to honor the emergency department staff. A volunteer from the emergency room approached leadership after witnessing staff members going above and beyond in caring for the rush of patients coming in during the pandemic, Shapley said.

As hospital officials considered the idea, it became clear the honor needed to be extended beyond the emergency department.

“Those of us who were a self-appointed team decided that our full staff, from the housekeeper all the way up to the CEO were doing a phenomenal job,” Shapley said. “We wanted to not only recognize our emergency room staff, but our entire staff for all they’ve done and participated in during this whole terrible pandemic.”

The project was lead by Shapley, Dr. Christopher Doehring, Franciscan Health’s vice president of medical affairs; Kelli Searles, vice president of marketing, and Julie Glover, director of patient safety. Funding for the memorials came entirely from donations, among them contributions from grateful former patients, Franciscan physicians, medical and support staff, and corporate partners.

In searching for an artist to embody the commemorative sculpture, they turned to Feeney. Though he may be best known for the sculpture of Manning unveiled in 2017, his work can be seen all over the area, including an 8,000-pound peace dove clutching an olive branch in its beak at the Indianapolis Public Library, and the eagle at the top of the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Indianapolis

Feeney’s design will include a bronze, double-sided sculpture of the Tau cross. The cross is the symbol of St. Francis of Assisi, who shared the symbol with the sick and others. As it honors St. Francis and embodies the ideals of Franciscan Health, officials felt it was an ideal design.

“I wanted to take their logo and figure out how to make it so it’s not so machine made — so that hands were actually put on it. When I sculpted the clay, I wanted to transfer that texture to it,” Feeney said.

Beneath the sculpture will be a bronze plaque with the following inscription:

“In Memory of the COVID-19 Pandemic Response at Franciscan Health – A Recognition of Service

Franciscan Health honors the physicians, nurses and countless other dedicated staff who demonstrated bravery, dedication, innovation, and compassion during the COVID-19 pandemic. They leave a legacy of leadership and commitment never to be forgotten. We honor their sacrifice with this memorial.”

“It was something we didn’t feel we needed to do, but wanted to do. Our staff has performed tremendously throughout the whole pandemic. The loyalty and the compassion they’ve shown to our patients and their families has been phenomenal,” Shapley said.

Organizers hope to dedicate the memorials at both the Indianapolis hospital and Mooresville facility in late spring or early summer, Shapley said.

“It’s a way to let our staff know that all of their efforts were not in vain — they weren’t taken for granted,” she said. “We as Franciscan Health Indianapolis have said that we want everybody in the future to know how our staff reacted and how they came to the need of those who entrusted themselves to our care.”