Surviving the Storm

Morayma Reyes Gil, M.D., Ph.D. and Mohammad Barouqa, M.D. | 08/29/2020

Starting in January, we followed different countries’ reports about the COVID-19 outbreak with great caution – until March 1, when the first case was reported in Manhattan. That’s when we realized that we were a few days away from seeing the first case in our own hospital. Little did we know that New York City was about to become the early epicenter of the pandemic in the USA – and that the Bronx would become “the epicenter of the epicenter.”

Morayma Reyes Gil, M.D., Ph.D. and Mohammad Barouqa

Morayma Reyes Gil, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Clinical Hematology and Coagulation Laboratories,
Montefiore Medical Center;
Associate Professor of Pathology,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Mohammad Barouqa, M.D.
Resident PGY-4, Anatomic & Clinical Pathology,
Montefiore Medical Center

When the first case was detected at Montefiore, we faced a challenge unlike any we had experienced before. Our first concern was to educate all laboratory personnel about COVID-19 symptoms and protection. At the same time, we started working on new workflows, testing methodologies, and backup plans to maintain the continuity of our operations – all of which required tremendous effort and coordination from everyone in the department.

By mid-March, our hematology and coagulation labs had started receiving COVID-19 positive specimens for patients presenting with unusual coagulopathies. Immediately, we began to investigate these abnormalities, especially in patients presenting with unusual changes and findings in our assays. These investigations could not have been achieved without the help of our colleagues in hematology, oncology, and transfusion medicine. (In particular, James Szymanski – assistant director of transfusion services – provided invaluable data analysis and mining.) Next, a small task force of residents, fellows, and attendings initiated several research studies to interpret data from patients during the pandemic and adjust anticoagulation therapy for COVID-19 patients. These collaborative efforts resulted in a number of research articles, currently under peer review, on the markers of coagulation. In addition, the help provided by our surgical pathology colleagues played a pivotal role in our ability to maintain service continuity, especially with the increased number of admissions for COVID-19 patients.

We learned that our strength does not come from our numbers, but from each person’s power and dedication.

Being at the epicenter of a pandemic was stressful and intimidating for everyone involved in clinical pathology. We had to focus on our work for long hours while simultaneously dealing with worries about ourselves and our families. As difficult as this was, our sense of camaraderie was at its highest – and we learned that our strength does not come from our numbers, but from each person’s power and dedication.

Over the past five months, we’ve witnessed firsthand how solidarity and teamwork can save patients’ lives. We’ve also learned to appreciate the contributions of every single person in the lab – not least those of our unsung heroes, the laboratory supervisors and technicians.

We’ve learned that the power of healing is not bound to a particular specialty; rather, it is a gift that comes from the most human part of us. With the lessons we’ve learned from this pandemic, we hope to continue serving and protecting the diverse population of our patients in the Bronx.