A former colleague of a 36-year-old nurse who died from Covid-19 last year has vowed to “make her proud” after being awarded a scholarship in her memory.
Sheila Kerai, 47, a clinical support worker at Walsall Manor hospital, worked alongside Areema Nasreen, who died in April 2020 after contracting Covid, leaving behind a devastated family including three children.
In 2019, Nasreen fulfilled her lifelong ambition of graduating from university to become a fully qualified nurse. To honour her memory Walsall healthcare NHS trust has created a scholarship to help others achieve their career goals.
Kerai, the scholarship’s first recipient, said: “Every time I start my shift I greet Areema by talking to the plaque we have put on the wall in her memory and I like to think she’s looking down on me, willing me on. We both dreamed of becoming nurses and when I encouraged Areema to start her journey she did the same to me.
“The timing wasn’t right for me – I was a single mum with three children and they needed me, particularly my youngest – but thanks to this scholarship in Areema’s memory it’s my time now and I promise I’ll make her proud.”
She said Nasreen was a “caring and compassionate person, and the sort of nurse everyone should model themselves on”.
She added: “We were like chalk and cheese in that I am quite a boisterous person and Areema was quieter and more reserved, but we clicked so well and rubbed off on each other.”
Nasreen’s sister, Kazeema Afzal, was part of the judging panel that made a unanimous decision to award the scholarship to Kerai, who will start as a training nurse associate on a two-year training programme before starting the second year of a nursing degree.
Afzal said: “This year has been terrible for our family and the pain never goes away – it actually gets worse for us. Losing Areema has been felt by our community too as she was such a positive, wonderful, person.
“But we have taken some comfort from her memory and everything she stood for living on through this scholarship. It is just the best way to show how much she meant to us all. We are really pleased for Sheila, who worked closely with my sister, and know she will make a great nurse at the end of it all, just like Areema.”
On Monday bereaved families wrote names on 150,000 or so hearts installed on the National Covid Memorial Wall, along the Thames embankment opposite parliament, which they said they hoped would become a permanent commemoration site.
More than 1,000 people, including bereaved and NHS staff, painted the hearts allowing people to mark the names of loved ones lost to the virus. Campaigners are encouraging politicians and the public to walk its length and reflect on the scale of loss.
Matt Fowler, a co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose father, Ian, 56, died because of the virus, helped to create the memorial wall. “There’s an emotional weight to this wall, it’s laden with love and memories and stories. Walls are usually there to keep us apart, but this one has brought us together in ways we didn’t even imagine, it’s been utterly overwhelming.
“We’ll never get back the people we’ve lost. But it’s so important for people to have a shared space for our collective memory, to share our loss and our love. We really hope it can stay.”