Nurse Whose Husband Died of COVID Is on a Door-to-Door Vaccine Crusade: 'I Can Help Save Others'

Carla Brown is now working to help the elderly and underserved

A Louisiana nurse who lost her husband to COVID-19 is channeling her grief into helping others fight off the virus — and she's doing it one door at a time.

Carla Brown tells PEOPLE she has wanted to help save the lives of others ever since her husband David died from COVID-19 in July 2020.

Seven months from that heartbreaking day, Brown — who currently works as a nurse at Canon Hospice — has embarked on a mission to make it happen.

Joined by her coworker Missy Hastings, Brown goes door-to-door in her hometown of Baton Rouge, helping the elderly, the homebound and those without cell phones or internet access obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.

In just four months alone, the pair have helped vaccinate 1,100 people in their community, and hope to reach a goal of 2,000 by the end of summer.

"[My husband] was the love of my life," Brown, 62, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I couldn't save David. But I can help save others — and that's what I'm trying to do."

"The Lord rides on Miss Carla's shoulders," adds Hastings, 47, who works as Canon Hospice's office manager. "We're both just trying to make a difference in our little section of the world."

For more on Carla Brown's mission, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Carla brown
Carla Brown. Annie Flanagan

Brown says she was working as a nurse at a Baton Rouge psychiatric hospital in May 2020 when she unknowingly contracted COVID-19 and brought it home to her family.

As the pandemic raged out of control, Brown watched helplessly as her 90-year-old father, 67-year-old brother and 67-year-old husband all became infected with COVID-19.

Eventually, all three men ended up in the hospital — but while her dad and brother ultimately recovered and made it home, David died on July 17 after seven weeks on a ventilator.

"It was devastating," says Brown. "My husband survived cancer two times, but not COVID. And because of COVID restrictions, I couldn't be with him or even hold his hand."

"After knowing I was the reason he got sick, I wanted to do something to help other people," she adds. "I wanted to make sure they could get vaccinated."

For more on Brown and Hastings' vaccine crusade, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

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Carla Brown and her late husband David. Courtesy Carla Brown

On any given day or night, Brown and Hastings can be seen hitting the streets after work in Brown's red Toyota Scion.

Armed with vials of the Moderna vaccine, provided to them by a local pharmacy they've partnered with, the women — known as "the COVID Crusaders" — stop at each front door and ask the residents if they're interested in getting the vaccine.

"We're targeting the elderly and those who are underserved," explains Brown, who also holds events where people can come get the vaccine.

While they've generally been successful in their efforts, Brown notes that "we get told no all the time."

"Especially in the Black community, there is a lot of mistrust of the medical community," Brown says.

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Carla Brown and Missy Hastings administering the vaccine to Joseph Rodost. Annie Flanagan

Although Louisiana was hit hard by the virus last year, the state now has one of the nation's lowest vaccination rates — but Brown and Hastings are hoping to change that.

"When they see medical professionals who look like them, and we tell them to get the shot, they're more inclined to listen," she explains. "We are very persistent. We will stay and talk as long as we can. We've had a lot of success in turning people around."

So far, Brown and Hastings have managed to use each and every vial they've been given.

The women also check back with each vaccine recipient to make sure no one's had an adverse reaction. (None have, thus far.)

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"The miracle of this is, with the help of the Lord, we have not had to waste one dose," Brown explains. "There are 10 doses in one vial. Every week, we have someone cancel out, and someone comes in to take that dose. We feel like every dose is an opportunity to save a life."

As they continue to work towards administering 2,000 vaccines by summer's end — a goal they're on track to hit — Brown isn't taking a single moment for granted.

"It's a great feeling to see people get the shot," she says. "We want to get as many people vaccinated as we can and it's a great feeling knowing we are part of that."

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