Colleagues in Hungary who are volunteering during the COVID-19 upsurge there include (clockwise from top left): Zeno Kuluncsics, Robert Sallai, Hajnalka Horvath, Viktor Pelle (l) and Zeno Kuluncsics, Eszter Bors and Piroska Vásárhelyi.

For U.S. Audiences

On the frontline in the fight against

Colleagues in Hungary volunteer at healthcare and vaccine centers

April 22, 2021     

For the past year, COVID-19 has had an impact on the world that few could have imagined when it first appeared. Outbreaks and occurrences have reached peaks and dips as guidelines have been implemented, markets have re-opened and, more recently, as vaccines have been introduced.

In Hungary, however, the situation has never been more dire; the number of patients in hospitals recently reached an all-time high and healthcare centers across the country are welcoming healthcare professional volunteers with open arms.

Below, meet seven colleagues in Hungary, all trained healthcare professionals, whose work has kept them in contact with hospital-based healthcare staff throughout the crisis and who have been inspired to volunteer as frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19.

BMS Hungary colleagues

BMS Hungary colleagues Viktor Pelle (left) and Zeno Kulincsics are both volunteer doctors at a vaccine center.

Giving the caregivers time to recharge

Viktor Pelle, business unit director, Immuno-Oncology, and also a physician, was compelled to volunteer during COVID after seeing for himself the efforts and sacrifices frontline workers have made to serve their patients; he began helping at a healthcare center in Budapest during the recent Easter holiday. “We are all looking forward to leaving this pandemic behind. Our dedicated doctors and nurses have been working nonstop to help ensure treatment for their patients,” Pelle said. “They, like so many others, have had to spend long days, weeks and months apart from friends and family. I hope that my contribution of time gives them help as well as some relief.”

Pelle, along with colleague Zeno Kuluncsics, director of the Medical Department, who also is a doctor, supports the vaccine center, where healthcare professionals have been working 13- to 14-hour days since December. As volunteer doctors, Pelle and Kuluncsics conduct triage assessments of people registered for the vaccine to determine their eligibility.

“I really appreciate being able to help in this way,” said Kuluncsics. “When I received the vaccine, I was among the first because I’m a doctor, and I realized that my help would be needed in the fight,” he said.

That opportunity came in the midst of the third wave. “Doctors working on the frontline also need time to recharge,” he added, “so by filling in for them two days a week, I’m hoping it gives them the much-needed rest that allows them to continue their work in helping patients.”

The company is a strong supporter of employees who volunteer. “I’m grateful that BMS has given me the flexibility to volunteer at the COVID vaccine center every Friday,” Kuluncsics said, adding that he also volunteers on Sundays and foregoes weekend activities with his family. “It motivates me and gives me hope that with each vaccine administered, we are able to save lives and get closer to having everybody receive the best and most timely treatment as before the pandemic,” he said.

Also volunteering at a vaccine center in Budapest is Eszter Bors, senior scientific advisor with the Medical Department, and a physician. “Knowing that during this pandemic my skills can help in any way, however small, gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” she said, and acknowledged the many challenges facing the world at this time in its history. “There are so many aspects of daily life where people need our help, and doing so costs us nothing. We get a lot of positive feedback from people when they come in for their vaccine; their gratitude and appreciation for our commitment gives me great motivation.”

After hearing that there were too few doctors to administer vaccines, Hajnalka Horvath, also a physician and a key account manager, registered to volunteer at the hospital in Veresegyház, near her hometown. “I’ve always liked helping others and in the current pandemic situation my conscience told me to volunteer,” she said. “I’m also part of the triage process, so my duty is to check the health condition of people waiting to be vaccinated to assess whether they can receive the vaccine or not. It feels great to actively contribute to the fight against the pandemic.”

Answering the call for nursing help

Hospitals in Hungary have also been faced with a severe shortage of critical care nurses during the recent uptick in cases. Key account manager Robert Sallai has more than 15 years of experience working in cardiac intensive care units and volunteers to help in COVID care units at hospitals in Debrecen and Miskolc as well as at vaccine centers.

“When I worked in the cardiac units, it used to be my daily job to take care of patients on ventilators,” he related. “I often think of that now, during the pandemic. I feel that I need to help my former colleagues who are now on the front line with patients suffering from COVID.”

Judit Szatmári, also a key account manager and a trained nurse, understands the isolation and fear that many families experience because of COVID. After nearly a year of quarantine, she spent last Christmas on her own, while her brother and parents were struggling with the virus. “It was devastating that I couldn’t do anything to help my brother, who was 220 km away and had called as he was waiting for an ambulance to arrive because he couldn’t breathe,” she said.

Saztmári now volunteers to help treat patients in the trauma care unit at a hospital in Budapest, which has experienced severe staff shortages as numerous doctors and nurses themselves are recovering from COVID-19.

After 17 years, key account manager Piroska Vásárhelyi has returned to her former profession as a pharmacist in her hometown of Farkasgyepű. The pulmonary center at the local hospital treats coronavirus patients whose condition does not require a ventilator and also serves as a vaccine center.

Vásárhelyi’s volunteer work has her filling in for the pharmacist who is on duty at the vaccine center. “I felt honored to be able to help at this critical time, when there are so many shortages of healthcare staff,” she said. “The managing director of the pulmonary center even helped me put on the protective clothing and mask. At our institute, I’ve encountered many patients who are recovering from COVID and are still in need of medical attention. I cannot emphasize enough: vaccines are crucial because they save lives.”

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