David Pastrnak said he understands how hard it is for a single mother. He was raised by one.
So when the Boston Bruins forward decided to donate the Honda CR-V Hybrid he won as most valuable player of the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game, he said he knew he wanted to give it to a real MVP, specifically a single mother.
That was how Kaitlin Hagstrom landed in a conference room at Tufts Medical Center in Boston on Dec. 15, her manager informing her she was needed for a filmed performance review. But when Hagstrom arrived and sat down, it was Pastrnak's face on the screen.
Video: Pastrnak gifts vehicle to frontline worker
He had a message for Hagstrom, an emergency room nurse who has been working through the coronavirus pandemic: waiting outside was a surprise for her, the Honda CR-V Hybrid.
"I have heard about all the great work you have done over at Tufts Medical Center," Pastrnak said on the video. "I know you are a single mother. I'm raised by a single mother. I know how hard it is to be raising family as a single mother and how much work you have to put in and how hard it is for you. I have so much respect for you."
When she got outside, the CR-V was there alongside Bruins mascot Blades and black-and-gold balloons, a gift for Hagstrom at the end of what has been a trying year for most people, especially healthcare workers. It was the start of a great week for Hagstrom, who would receive her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine three days later.
That wasn't all; for Hagstrom's 4-year-old son, Shaun, was a Pastrnak jersey, new hockey skates, and hockey gear, all from the Bruins. Shaun got on skates for the first time last winter.
"I'm still kind of in shock from it," Hagstrom said Tuesday. "They had me totally fooled. I had no idea about this. … I feel so grateful. It's amazing."
And it meant even more, now that she knows the backstory; Pastrnak and his brother, Jakub, were raised by his mother, Marcela, in the Czech Republic. Pastrnak and his mother remain close to this day.
"I didn't know that about him," Hagstrom said. "It's really difficult trying to just juggle everything between work, being a mom, working, trying to do everything. It is really challenging, and I feel blessed and grateful that he gave me the Honda."
When Massachusetts was hit hard by the coronavirus in March, Shaun's preschool closed. But Hagstrom didn't want to stop working. She knew that nurses, particularly ER nurses, would be in demand.
"I usually schedule my work schedule around the days he goes to school, and then COVID happened and then they closed his school down," said Hagstrom, who has worked in the ER for eight years. "I'm like, what am I going to do for childcare? I work full-time. My family supported me as much as they can with childcare, but everyone's still working. With the help of my co-workers and my managers I brought this up, saying, 'I want to work. I don't want to have to take a leave.'"
They rallied, a group at Tufts Medical Center that she called "like a family," helping her manage her shifts around a schedule that would work for her and Shaun. She swapped shifts, worked weekends, made it through the months that his school was shut down so that she could continue to help.
It was hard. And the work certainly didn't get easier.
"These patients are so sick," Hagstrom said. "They're not allowed to have family with them at the bedside. It's horrible in itself because some patients come in through the front door and their family hugs them, not knowing if that's the last time they're going to see them. That was difficult to see. And [you're] wondering if you're going to get COVID yourself and bring it home."
There was so much worry. So much anxiety.
But she also saw all the doctors and the nurses and the staff at Tufts come together. She saw a "total team effort" to help patients and each other.
And now, with Pastrnak's generosity, things are looking up.
"I just can't even put it into words what it means to me," Hagstrom said. "It's going to help me out quite a lot, actually. I'm just so thankful."