Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse from Port Washington, is among two Long Islanders and 17 Americans who will receive the prestigious honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony. Credit: Barry Sloan; AP

Two Long Islanders — the nurse who was the first American to receive the approved COVID-19 vaccine, and a priest who counseled presidents — will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, the White House announced Friday.

Sandra Lindsay, a critical-care nurse from Port Washington, and Father Alexander Karloutsos, who serves as pastor of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons in Southampton, are among 17 Americans who will receive the prestigious honor at a White House ceremony Thursday.

Other recipients include the late Sen. John McCain, actor Denzel Washington, gymnast Simone Biles and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence survivor.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is presented to people who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

"These 17 Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation — hard work, perseverance, and faith," said a White House statement. "They have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities — and across the world — while blazing trails for generations to come."

Lindsay, a critical-care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, was the first American to receive the vaccine outside of clinical trials on Dec. 14, 2020. She is director of patient care services for the hospital’s division of critical care.

"I'm very, very, very excited and honored," said Lindsay, 53, who had grown up in Jamaica in the Caribbean. "It's significant not only for me and my loved ones, but for who I represent: my Northwell Health family, health care workers around the world, women of color, women in general, Jamaicans and immigrants are just a few of those groups."

Lindsay served on the front lines of the pandemic response and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

"When our country needed healing, nurses stepped up," she said, adding she wasn't nervous when she received the vaccine. "What I was scared of was COVID-19, not the vaccine."

The nurse of 29 years said she has a special message she'd like to convey to President Joe Biden.

"Besides expressing gratitude, if I get to ever sit down with him one-to-one, I want to share the incredible toll that the pandemic has taken on health care workers. We hope that our leaders give us the same level of healing that we gave the nation."

Karloutsos is the former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, having retired from the position last year.

Speaking on the phone from Connecticut, he told Newsday he was humbled by the news that he had been selected to receive the honor.

“When you’re serving, you’re not thinking of being honored, you just focus on serving, and that’s the great honor,” said Karloutsos as he looked back on his more than 50 years of service as a priest.

Karloutsos, one of six children of Greek immigrants and whose father was a priest, said after his mother died when he was 9 years old, he began to seek answers into “the ‘why’s’ and the ‘who’s’ of life” and was later inspired to enter a life in the priesthood.

The married father of three is commonly known among friends and parishioners as “Father Alex.” During his career, he provided counsel to several U.S. presidents and was named by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. 

Karloutsos also has been involved in the building of the chapel at Camp David under President George H.W. Bush, and has helped raise millions in funding from the Greek community for the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Karloutsos said he was very proud, in particular, to have been a part of the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is the most sacred site in the world for Christians as it is reputed to be located at the tomb of Jesus Christ.

Despite his accomplishments, Karloutsos said he still sees himself as a simple servant of his faith who wants to do the best he can for his church and community.

“Most people don’t know my last name and they don’t know my titles. And I prefer it that way. I just want to be the way our Lord taught us. He taught us to be servants,” Karloutsos said. 

Constantine Lazarakis, who is presbyter at the Southampton church, was mentored by Karloutsos in the church and has known him since 1998.

Lazarakis told Newsday on Friday that he was very happy for his friend and mentor, describing Karloutsos as a man who always manages to place his community and his parishioners first despite his busy schedule.

It has not been uncommon for Karloutsos to drop everything while working in high-level affairs to help parishioners in need, Lazarakis said.

“He serves the little old widowed lady who’s living alone in her house and needs someone to bring her Communion and maybe needs some help getting medical prescriptions. In his list of priorities, she’s the top,” Lazarakis said. 

Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees

Simone Biles

Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history and a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell

Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform and health care policy.

Julieta García

García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. 

Gabrielle Giffords

The former congresswoman, a survivor of gun violence, co-founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray

Gray was one of the first Black members of the Alabama State Legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Steve Jobs (posthumous)

Jobs, who died in 2011, was the co-founder, chief executive, and chair of Apple Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Co. 

Father Alexander Karloutsos

Karloutsos is the former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and served over 50 years as a priest.

Khizr Khan

Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay

Lindsay is a Long Island critical-care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. 

John McCain (posthumous)

McCain, who died in 2018, was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served for decades in Congress and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash

Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. 

Megan Rapinoe

Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson

Simpson served as a U.S. senator from Wyoming for 18 years. He has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)

Trumka, who died last year, was president of the AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught

Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. 

Denzel Washington

Washington is an actor, director and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Raúl Yzaguirre

Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He also served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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