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Suraj Kumar Saggar, DO ’02
PCOM Heroes of the Front Line

Chief, Department of Infectious Disease, Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck, New Jersey

Suraj Kumar Saggar, DO ’02, dons a face mask and looks at the camera“New Jersey has faced an extraordinary COVID-19 outbreak, suffering the second-highest death and infection totals in the country after New York. … As the contagion escalated in mid-March, our Bergen County hospital came under siege; it seemed that overnight we were in the midst of a war zone. Patients were high acuity, and a large number had severe outcomes. Those on ventilators saw a 10 to 15 percent survival rate. … The surge of patients required that our medical units be modified. Our materials management personnel got creative. Within a week, “the shell ICU” was created—a modular MASH unit built to accommodate 40 infected patients. Areas were converted into negative pressure spaces, drawing out air to prevent contamination inside. Monitoring equipment was placed outside pressurized rooms, which reduced the amount of PPE used. We used inpatient isopods and transport isopods. All of these measures helped us conserve critical resources during a supply shortage. … By the end of March, we were solely treating COVID-19 patients. The hospital was nearing capacity and supply stock. Daily, we were building out to accommodate increasing need. Our administration appealed to the public for donations and supplies. … The epicenter of the pandemic in New Jersey, we have become a national model. We are heartened by our unprecedented frontline care. We are also burned out. Many are suffering from acute stress, PTSD. Our hospital has had an up-close view of daily tragedies. We have mourned the death of four employees, and over a dozen doctors have been sickened. Our hospital CEO also contracted the virus. Personally, I can tell you that the fear I saw in patients’ eyes still sticks with me. The sounds of the pandemic have become embedded in my consciousness. They keep me up some nights. … As an infectious disease physician, it has been intellectually stimulating to witness a pandemic in real time, the first in the social media era. The pace at which risk-assessment, research and guidance has emerged, the way clinicians across disciplines, across the globe, have come together, is truly remarkable. … Here in Teaneck we have reached our peak. We are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients. … I have become involved in clinical trials: Kevzara (primary investigator) and expanded access of the drug remdesivir (sub-investigator). I’m also looking at potential therapeutics and serum antibodies. There is anecdotal evidence that the drugs may help patients infected with COVID-19, but peer-reviewed studies are needed. … We’re not out of the woods yet. There will likely be more waves of the virus. We need to stay ahead of the curve. We need to be vigilant. We need a vaccine. Herd immunity will take longer.”

As told to Jennifer Schaffer Leone
May 11, 2020

About Digest Magazine

Digest, the magazine for alumni and friends of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, is published by the Office of Marketing and Communications. The magazine reports on osteopathic and other professional trends of interest to alumni of the College’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and graduate programs at PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia.

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