On April 6, Kristen Szuba returned to the halls of UF Health Shands Hospital — four months after giving birth — to help the hospital fight against COVID-19. She’s a nurse in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit.

Szuba said decision to leave her 4-month-old daughter, Magnolia, wasn’t an easy one. But the 26-year-old felt it was the right thing to do.

“I have a duty to serve others, especially during this time of need,” Szuba said.

She is just one of many health care workers who are spending Mother’s Day balancing celebration and motherhood with their work on the frontline.

After working for a month at the hospital, Szuba has Mother’s Day off. She is celebrating the 106-year-old holiday at home with her daughter and husband. They planned to spend the day outside, enjoying local walking trails and eating home-cooked brunch.

Szuba said her mother, Doris Goodyear, made her who she is today.

“She has always taught me to show compassion towards others, which is something I strive to do each day in the hospital as I take care of the sweet little kiddos,” Szuba said.

In an Instagram post from Szuba’s first day back to work after her daughter was born, her husband, Matthew, described her as a natural caregiver.

“She’s a great mother to [Magnolia] and seems to always know what to do for her in any situation,” he wrote.

Unlike Szuba, Gianna Gutierrez is spending Mother’s Day away from her family.

While Gutierrez was preparing to apply to medical schools, the 21-year-old UF health science graduate put her plans on pause and joined the health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working as an Emergency Medicine Scribe at UF Health Shands, the aspiring emergency room physician gained a new perspective by assisting professionals and observing day-to-day operations in the hospital.

“I’ve learned about compassionate patient care along with the intricacies of emergency medicine,” she said. “And I’ve been exposed to so many different cases that come into the emergency department.”

But her hands-on experience came at a price — Gutierrez has remained in Gainesville, about five hours away from her family in Weston.

“My parents are both working from home,” she said. “So missing out on the time I could be spending with them is difficult.”

Gutierrez said she keeps in touch with her 19-year-old sister, mother and father through calls on FaceTime.

Mother’s Day makes quarantine more difficult, Gutierrez said.

On a typical Mother’s Day, the family of four would gather at noon mass and join friends and family afterward for lunch. This year, they will watch mass on YouTube, barbeque on the pool deck and take a sunset bike ride — this time, without Gianna.

She can’t spend the day at home, so instead she reminisces on the times she’s spent with her mother in the past: their Harry Potter movie marathons and foodie adventures at Weston restaurants.

Under other circumstances, the pair would be together, Gutierrez said. But her mother supports her daughter’s decision to help those in need.

“We have always encouraged our daughters to be dependable and responsible, especially when times are tough,” she said.

As a parent, she worries about her daughter working in a critical area, but she understands and supports her commitment to those she serves.

For many families, distance may feel like a barrier to bonding. However, the Gutierrezes said they have used this time to strengthen their relationship through communication, resilience and faith.

“Our family has a deep faith,” Gutierrez’s mother said. “I think this faith is what we draw comfort from in these times,” she said.

This Mother’s Day is different, but despite being separated by more than 300 miles, Amy Gutierrez said she believes their family will still find joy in one another.

Contact Avery at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ajlotz8.

Staff Writer

Avery is a sophomore journalism major at UF and the Metro General Assignment Reporter. In her free time, she surfs in New Smyrna Beach. She is pursuing an outside concentration in political science and hopes to start a career in political reporting.