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Tufts University School of Medicine

Alumni Spearhead COVID-19 Responses

Wednesday, September 30, 2020 - 12:00pm

Tufts alumni around the globe are responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with innovative ideas and a generous spirit. “Dispatches from the Pandemic” is an occasional series featuring the voices of some of those Tufts graduates. Read an earlier installment here. Do you know of others who are leading in their communities? Let us know at now@tufts.edu.

“Despite how deadly Ebola is, it’s not as easily transmitted as COVID-19.”

Anesthesiologist Neel Shah, A06, M12, a major in the U.S. Army, heads up the COVID airway team at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, an Army-run hospital in southwest Germany. Any U.S. military member serving in a combat zone who contracts COVID-19 is evacuated to his hospital. If the patient is gravely ill and must be put on a ventilator, Shah and his team manage the process.

In the beginning of the crisis, the patients medically evacuated to Landstuhl from places like the Middle East, Africa, and Afghanistan were representative of the high-risk categories. They were older individuals.

But then a younger soldier arrived. The soldier was otherwise healthy, but devastated by COVID-19, requiring a breathing tube, a central line, an arterial line, and IVs. I’m 35, and saw myself in the soldier. It was scary. I had read accounts of young, healthy people getting very ill, but I hadn’t seen it first-hand. Fortunately, the soldier recovered.

I was deployed to Liberia during the Ebola crisis and that experience was invaluable when it came to setting up Landstuhl’s COVID-19 wards. Ebola is orders of magnitude scarier than COVID-19 but despite how deadly Ebola is, it’s not as easily transmitted as COVID-19, which appears to spread like wildfire.

There are asymptomatic people walking around with COVID-19 in their nose—sneezing and coughing. While they may feel fine, they could be infecting hundreds of people who may become very ill. With Ebola, people had to be sick in order to transmit it to someone else, so you generally knew whom to stay away from. In contrast, COVID-19 is a hidden enemy that you may not be able to identify.

— as told to Vicki Ritterband

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