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7's HERO: St. Luke's employees donate 240 hours of paid time off to fellow employee for surgery

Elizabeth Obregon battled cancer, COVID-19 and had her first child during the pandemic. Her coworkers rallied around her to donate much-needed PTO.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — The last year and a half has been incredibly difficult for everyone, but especially for Idaho's healthcare workers. Through multiple surges of the COVID-19 pandemic and crisis standards of care, these healthcare workers continued to show up every day to help the people of Idaho.

One of the healthcare workers most affected by the pandemic is Elizabeth Obregon, a certified medical assistant for St. Luke's Orthopedics in Meridian.

During the pandemic, she fought COVID-19 while pregnant, battled cancer, and gave birth. It has been a whirlwind of chaos, and she said she couldn't have gotten through it all without her coworkers. 

Obregon was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018 when she was in her early 30s. She had surgery to remove the cancer in 2019 but decided to not have a hysterectomy. She made this decision because she wanted to have a child.

"My dream of being a mom was going to be shattered, and so I was very torn about it and didn't feel comfortable about having a hysterectomy right away, even though friends and family were like 'Go do it, it's your life,'" Obregon said.

In April 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit Idaho, she found out she was pregnant with what she called her miracle baby.

"I didn't believe it for several weeks," Obregon told KTVB. "Is this really happening? This is a dream come true. I've always wanted to be a mom and I was told it wasn't possible." 

Despite Obregon's incredible joy, the pandemic high-risk pregnancy was tough. Her doctors had to watch her very closely. 

Unfortunately, she contracted COVID-19.

"I was out for the whole month of July recovering, so I had to miss work for that. I got it from a patient at the hospital, so I had to miss about a month," Obregon said. "It was really scary and nerve-wracking because I couldn't feel the baby move when I had COVID-19, but then I kept getting bigger and he just kept surpassing all the milestones."

Her son Elijah was born in December. He was delivered a month early.

Obregon was so thrilled to be a mom, but by the summer of 2021, her oncologist was again urging her to have a hysterectomy before her cancer spread. 

"I met with him and he looked at me and said, 'Elizabeth, do you realize, do you want to see your son live?' And that really hit me. Hearing him say that the way he did really struck a chord with me, and I was torn because I didn't have enough time off," Obregon said. "I was just like, 'I can't miss work right now.' I'm a single mom, I need to support my son, I don't get any state assistance. I knew it had to be done, so I prayed that something happens and that God provides a way." 

Obregon's coworkers at St. Luke's Health System heard about her dilemma. They wanted to help her by donating paid time off (PTO). Word spread through the St. Luke's family.  

"A coworker texted me and said, 'Hey, did you hear about your PTO donations?' I couldn't believe it," she said. "I had enough donated that it was enough for me to recover and take that time, and I just began to cry." 

With hospital approval, her coworkers donated over 240 hours of PTO to her recovery time. 

"I was amazed that my coworkers were so generous about donating to me so that I could recuperate the way I was supposed to. I just was so moved," Obregon said. "The same day that I was told that the PTO was donated, I got a call from the oncologist's office and he said that we didn't need to do chemotherapy and radiation. It was the best day ever. It was very moving and I'm just so grateful."

Now, Obregon is back to work. She's feeling strong, and she can't thank her coworkers enough. The donations are anonymous, so sharing her story was the best way to thank them all in a very public way. 

"I just [want to] thank you so much, I love you guys so much," Obregon said.

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