It was a day for remembering the past and looking optimistically towards the future as frontline workers and patients gathered at Long Island Jewish Medical Center (LIJ) to reflect on the two-year anniversary of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
On November 17, 2019, a 55-year-old from Hubei province in China may have been the first person to have contracted what we now know as COVID-19. That person appeared more than a month before doctors noted similar outbreaks in Wuhan, China. To commemorate what is likely the second anniversary of the outbreak, members of the medical staff were joined by a COVID-19 patient who had been treated at LIJ to reflect on the devastating pandemic – losses, triumphs and lessons learned.
David Battinelli, MD, senior vice president, led Northwell Health’s initial response to the health crisis as it arrived in New York in March 2020. In his opening remarks, he reflected on the changes brought about by this dreaded disease. “We at Northwell were in active surveillance in late 2019 and early 2020 as the pandemic blossomed and we subsequently cared for our first patient on March 9th,” said Dr. Battinelli. “Our peak came on April 7th, 2020, when we treated 3,500 hospitalized patients. To date, we have cared for over 200,000 COVID-infected patients.”
Ahmed Ellis, 36, of Baldwin, LI, worked as a school security officer with the South Brooklyn Task Force. He entered the hospital as a COVID patient on April 6, 2020 – the peak of the First Wave in New York – and remained at LIJ for 44 days. During his hospitalization, Mr. Ellis spent 30 of those days on a ventilator, a fact that illustrates the gravity of his medical condition. He and his wife, Alexis, who have been a couple for 13 years, are prominently featured in The First Wave, a new documentary film from NatGeo that will enjoy its New York City premiere on Thursday, November 18th at the Beacon Theatre in NYC. The film will open in five American cities on November 19th.
When asked to share his thoughts about the last two years, Mr. Ellis was quick to reply. His comment was heartfelt and very emotional. “My experience with COVID taught me that life is precious,” he said. “We must never take our health for granted. We must remember that the simple things of like are precious. Most important is our family…never take them for granted.”
Among the speakers were Northwell’s Executive Director of Emergency Medicine, John D’Angelo, MD; Fred Davis, DO, associate chair of Emergency Medicine at LIJ; Sandra Lindsay, RN, first American to receive COVID-19 vaccine; and Bernard Robinson, an EMT and the health system’s director of Emergency Medical Services, who was hospitalized twice for COVID.
According to Dr. D’Angelo, one of the most impressive takeaways from the pandemic was the determination and teamwork demonstrated by the medical staff, all of whom were thrown into a situation where they had to learn about the disease as they were trying to treat it.
“What stays with me is the idea that we were actually flying the plane as we were building it,” said Dr. D’Angelo. “It was truly inspiring to see every staff member mobilizing so quickly for the good of our patients. This was something we had never seen before; we had no time for the usual strategies. Our staff moved together with one goal in mind. This is something I will always remember.”
In conclusion, Dr. Battinelli delivered his thoughts about the events of the last two years. “I can honestly say that I have never seen such courage and compassion morph from initial fear and uncertainty,” he said. “After hearing the stories of our healthcare heroes, and then the personal journey of our patient – who, we are happy to report, continues to thrive today – you begin to understand what we’ve all learned together. There is literally nothing we can’t achieve if we move forward with hope and conviction and courage.”