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Hometown Heroes Parade: Queens Dr. Teresa Amato Grateful For Light At End Of Tunnel After Dark And Difficult Year

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Among the hometown heroes honored at Wednesday's ticker-tape parade was a doctor who runs the emergency department at a Queens hospital that was hit hard in the pandemic.

She's one of the countless health care heroes who risked their own lives while trying to save others.

A calm, sunny day outside Long Island Jewish Forest Hills paints a much different picture than a year ago.

"It was a really dark time here," Dr. Teresa Amato told CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis.

The chair of emergency medicine said the hospital was inundated early on with hundreds of patients a day.

"When you work in the emergency room, you spend a lot of time with your career preparing for mass casualties," Amato said. "I think what we weren't really prepared for was that it wasn't just a few minutes or a few hours, it went into days and then weeks into months."

WATCH: Health Care Heroes Honored At Ticker-Tape Parade 

Among the darkest days, they lost their own to COVID. A memorial will be painted in the garden outside the hospital to remember the four health care workers they lost.

"It was just day after day, it really didn't seem like there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel," said Amato.

But there were moments when the light would shine through, like sending COVID patients home, including the first she cared for.

"He's a New York City public school teacher. So to see him back doing the things he loves to do, that was a real morale booster for the team to see someone surviving," she said.

Then, the vaccine arrived in December.

"The first dose was mixed here at Forest Hills by our pharmacist Anthony Longo, and then it was shipped over to LIJ," Amato said.

Critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay got the first shot. Amato got hers the next day, followed by millions of others.

"I am so happy we are at that point. I do feel like that's the way out of this pandemic," she said.

She encouraged more people to get vaccinated, saying patients coming in with COVID have not.

"The more people we can get to take the jab, the better we're going to be to crush this," she said.

A hospital hit hard by the pandemic was held together by hope, hard work and community support.

"The clap-outs at 7 p.m. every night during that spring really meant a lot to our staff," said Amato.

Now, the grand gesture of gratitude with the Hometown Heroes Parade, which she's proud to be a part of.

"I've always loved watching ticker-tape parades on TV. I'm a big Yankees fan," she told DeAngelis. "It just means a joyful occasion, something really great just happened. So I think that's what it means for me is that we really are at the light at the end of the tunnel, and things are really getting back to normal finally."

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