CARMEL, Ind. — As central Indiana prepares for a massive month of college basketball, the NCAA and local organizers are recognizing "Final Four Frontline Heroes."
They are people who quietly make sacrifices to help others through the pandemic. A Fishers man nominated a whole team of heroes.
Fifty weeks ago, COVID-19 was killing 53-year-old Mike Kueper.
"There was a couple of nights they told my parents they weren't sure I would make it through the night," he said.
Today, he said he's feeling "good... a lot better."
Kueper survived to smile for the camera only after 29 days in the hospital, 17 of them unconscious on a ventilator. Nurses and doctors risked their lives saving his.
"Yes they did. 100 percent yes." he said. "Without them, I wouldn't be here today."
Saying thanks wasn't enough, so Kueper nominated his care team at IU Health North Hospital to be declared heroes. They won.
Last week, Kueper arrived at IU Health North Hospital with armloads of gift bags and certificates of appreciation.
"I want to say thank you," he told the small crowd. "The NCAA and Final Four has given you the Frontline Hero Award for what you have done."
The NCAA, Final Four, and Indiana Sports Corp created the award to honor people who serve the community and make personal sacrifices to help others.
A year ago, Kueper was in the first wave of COVID-19 victims. Health care workers were still learning about the virus, how to treat it and how to protect themselves.
The reunion was an emotional experience for Dr. Jeff Browne.
"To actually see someone have such a great outcome makes all the risk worth having done," he said in a video of the event.
Emily Hackett, a registered nurse, agreed.
"It's an overwhelming feeling of all the hard work you did was worth it," she said.
"They put their lives on the line, making sure everything was OK with me," Kueper said.
From the looks on everyone's faces, they are doing better than OK.