By Jenna DeAngelis

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A nurse on the front lines of the pandemic who has been caring for patients for four decades​ in Queens clocked out for the last time Friday night.

It’s always a celebration for staff at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills when they send a patient home, but it’s tough to let go of one of their own.

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“We’re like family here,” registered nurse Sylvana Rega said.

After 40 years with this family, Rega is retiring, working her last shift Friday.

“It’s been a ride. Some good, some not so good. Started out in the ’80s with the AIDS epidemic,” she told CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis.

But nothing, she says, was like the past year.

“When you see people dying every day,” Rega said. “It was unimaginable.”

Last April, the 62-year-old got COVID, but after two weeks, she was back on the front lines, caring for her patients.

“Every room had COVID on this floor, except one,” she said.

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“She is the epitome of a nurse,” nurse manager Phyllis Prawzinsky said. “She never shies away from a challenge.”

Rega witnessed heartache in this hospital but also health care breakthroughs.

“Nursing has come a long way. In the beginning, we were just, like… follow doctor’s orders, and today, we are part of a team,” she said.

Her message to aspiring nurses?

“You gotta do it with your heart,” she said.

She’s leaving a piece of her heart with her Northwell Health family, who surprised her with a well-deserved “clap out” on her way out, chanting her name.

“All the love in this hospital. There’s a lot of love here,” Rega said.

Love she’s carried through her career and she’ll take with her on the next chapter.

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Next, she plans to enjoy her first summer off since college and travel, but she says with nursing close to her heart, she may return part time in the fall.

Jenna DeAngelis