Diane Kaplan and Dr. Brian Bunkers

Diane Kaplan gives Dr. Brian Bunkers, CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna, his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in December. Though she officially retired from her nursing career in February 2020, Kaplan has returned to the frontlines to help administer the vaccine to the community. (Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System)

Not all heroes wear capes – some wear scrubs.

When one former frontline worker saw her community in distress and in need, she decided it was time to come out of retirement and return to fight the good fight.

Diane Kaplan will be celebrating her 66th birthday soon, and she will spend that day administering COVID-19 vaccines at the Mayo Clinic in Owatonna. The retired nurse has always loved helping others, but she admits this time around, there is an extra level of joy that has come with the work.

“Everyone is just so happy,” Kaplan laughed. “They are all so grateful and just tell me, ‘Thank you for doing this.’”

Over the last handful of months, Kaplan has been one of the nurses heading up the COVID-19 vaccination effort for the clinic. Starting with doctors and nurses at a fairly slow rate in December, Kaplan said it’s amazing how they have been able to expand and offer the vaccine to the public.

“Those first two weeks we only had 25 doses, that’s all we were allocated,” Kaplan said. “Now we’re getting probably 200-300 at least three or four times a week, so I feel like we’re doing really good.”

Ever a professional and someone who thrives on being busy, it’s almost difficult to remember the Kaplan is indeed retired. In February 2020, about a month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting Minnesota, Kaplan retired after 14 years at the clinic. Watching her family, friends and neighbors struggle with the isolation and restrictions throughout last year, however, Kaplan was ready to get back to doing what she loves.

“I’ve just always been interested in helping people,” Kaplan said, recalling when she first enrolled at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester to become a nurse, where she eventually worked for five years following her graduation. “I was able to meet a lot of different people from all over the world and it was fast-paced and I loved it.”

Prior to the COVID-19 vaccine becoming available, a local seasonal influenza clinic was opened and in need of staff to administer flu shots to patients. Ready to answer her call to action, Kaplan applied and came on board. Eventually that rolled into her position today of administering the highly sought-after COVID-19 vaccines.

“I love it,” Kaplan beamed with pride. “People are so happy that they will be able to get out again and have a little bit of normalcy. I have had so many people tell me that now they can go see their kids or their parents after a year of just phone calls and waving through a window.”

Since the eligibility for the vaccine has opened up to all Minnesotans ages 16 and older, Kaplan said they have been incredibly busy — exactly how she likes it. Not only is she seeing members of the community walking through the doors to get a shot, but also people who are driving down from the metro area in search of an appointment. In the off-chance that there is a cancellation or the clinic has extras toward the end of the day, Kaplan has taken it upon herself to phone people in town that she knows have been waiting for an appointment.

“At the clinic we used to get people coming in not feeling well, but now everyone I see is just really happy,” Kaplan said. “I figure we’ll be doing this for a couple more months or even longer, it will probably swing into the next flu season, but I really like it and will keep doing it.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

Recommended for you

Load comments