By Stephanie Stahl

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — It’s been one year since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in New Jersey. There have now been nearly 716,000 people infected with the virus in New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states. Cooper Hospital in Camden has treated thousands of patients.

Medical staff on the frontlines of the pandemic put their lives on the line and have endured a year of difficult days in the hospital.

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No visitors allowed, no loved ones to say goodbye to the COVID patients who didn’t survive.

“People were dying and didn’t have their loved ones around,” Nicole Caristo, a nurse at Cooper Hospital, said, “and that’s hard.”

Caristo is an ICU nurse at Cooper Hospital that created a web series called “Stories in Care” for the Cooper teams on the frontlines of treating COVID patients.

It’s more than medicine — it’s making connections with families.

“I talked to his wife or sister every day,” Caristo said.

The patient was Jon Rosen, who was on a ventilator for months, near death several times.

“Yes, I’m a miracle and yes, I’m a success,” Rosen said.

When he was finally reunited with his wife after being released from the hospital, Caristo acted on instinct.

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“Without hesitation, I just hugged her,” Caristo said. “It was an illegal hug, but I needed it. She needed it. She was like, ‘I forgot what it was like to hug people.’”

COVID has stolen so many simple things — hugs, seeing smiles, for example — but for Rosen, there’s a new eternal kind of gratitude.

“How do you give back? How do you say thank you?” Rosen said.

He delivered 100 notes to the people who took care of him, saying thank you for being my light. He says he saw a lot of tears.

“It’s a love army,” Rosen said.

Having treated more than 2,700 patients, the “Cooper Love Army” is still battling COVID. It’s a little easier now, but the emotional scars of the early days will last forever.

It’s the survivors like Rosen who keep them going, and he’s relishing every moment.

“Take every moment as special and live each moment as special because you don’t know,” he said.

Rosen, who had no high-risk factors for COVID, says he still has lingering side effects.

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The video memories from Cooper were made to pay tribute to the medical staff. You can view them by clicking here.

Stephanie Stahl