By Steven Graves

CHICAGO (CBS) — So many people wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the tireless work by our health care workers, working days on end, putting their own safety and that of their families at risk.

CBS 2’s Steven Graves reports on their stories.

When you talk to these health care heroes, many quickly bring up the vaccine, and how thankful they are for it. But they’re keeping a close eye on dealing with mental health.

Almost a year into the pandemic, the battle against COVID-19 is just habit now for Chicago doctors like infectious disease specialist Lisa Russell.

“Just working day in and day out,” Russell said, adding that taking the time to digest the statistic of one million cases in Illinois is mind boggling.

“(It) is astonishing and it’s difficult to put into words.”

She has broken down.

“I mean, many times.”

Sometimes she and her staff are the last people a gravely ill patient lays eyes on.

“When you don’t have much to offer people other than a hand or a kind word, that takes a toll.”

The feeling of isolation carries over into personal life for mental health nurse Tiffany Dean.

“I have two children at home. And since the pandemic I have not been close to my children,” Dean said.

That’s almost a year of socially distancing from her 12 and 17 year olds.

“But from this point, their health is the priority. Due to them not having access to their provider,” Dean said.

But each one in that one million case count is a person, name and face, which keeps up motivation.

“I had a patient who asked me if I was scared of getting the virus,” Doctor Michael Hoffman said. “And I said, ‘no, I’m not scared. I know how to protect myself. And I’m here to take care of you.’ And he said ‘I thank your family for you being here.'”

It makes maintaining mental health that much more important. For Doctor Hoffman, that’s exercise, meditation and encouragement for his team.

“This is a trauma. This is why we need to take care of ourselves. We need to take care of each other.”

Many workers deal with anxiety around risking their own lives.

The CDC reports about 350,000 COVID cases in health care workers nationwide. A little more than 1,000 have died.

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