Miller School Alumni

Med ’Canes on the front lines


Med ’Canes on the front lines

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine alumni from across the country share their firsthand accounts of caring for COVID-19 patients.

Melvin La, M.D. '14

Melvin La, M.D. ‘14, is an anesthesiologist at UCSF in San Francisco, CA, who traveled to New York City, NY in April as part of an emergency COVID-19 response team. It was a homecoming for Dr. La, who did his residency and fellowship training in New York City. For four weeks, the team provided support to their colleagues at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Many of the patients they saw were treated in makeshift ICUs, where they used anesthesia machines as ventilators. “I witnessed the strength of an entire city coming together, cheering for us every evening, and sending meals to the hospitals every day," said Dr. La of working on the front lines during this pandemic. "Even now that I'm back in San Francisco, my heart goes out to all the health care workers in New York who continue to fight this pandemic.” 

Rachel Libby, M.D. '16 and Linda Nied Prieto, M.D. '90

We thank Rachel Libby, M.D. ’16, an emergency medicine physician, and Linda Nied Prieto, M.D. ’90, an internal medicine physician. Both are Miller School alumnae working on the front lines at Emory Decatur Hospital in Decatur, GA during the COVID-19 pandemic. They met when Dr. Libby spotted Dr. Prieto’s Miami pin.

Dr. Libby says of working in emergency medicine: “I am so proud of this profession and the courage my colleagues have shown. Also, I am humbled by all the support we’ve received.” Dr. Prieto adds: “This is what we do – we take care of those who are sick and in need of our expertise. Although this is the worse epidemic I have been through, I also worked in the hospital during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 90s and H1N1 in 2009. Stay safe!” 

Jorge Luis Infante, M.D. '02

We thank Jorge Luis Infante, M.D. ’02, an emergency medicine physician with variety of health care systems across the Southeast. While committed to serving COVID-19 patients, he is also dedicated to addressing misinformation about the pandemic, from taking interviews with media, to updating family and friends via social media. Dr. Infante believes in educating others, “Be an example to others. Keep the curve flat so that we (in the front lines) are not overwhelmed and so that other physicians and researchers may be able to come up with improved solutions and treatments.”

While Dr. Infante recognizes the fear frontline health care workers experience, his chief concern is the well-being of his patients, “It helps to remember that the patients are as scared as you are and it aides in creating a connection even when you are separated by massive amounts of PPE. This holistic approach to the patient taught to us at University of Miami is ingrained in my practice.”

Nashley M. Harrigan, M.D. '11

We thank Nashley M. Harrigan, M.D. ’11, a nocturnist emergency medicine physician at the Montefiore Health System in The Bronx, NY, where she is also an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine. Dr. Harrigan’s unit is the first to evaluate, assess, intubate, and treat all COVID-19 patients once they enter the emergency department. “I am used to dealing with high volumes of critical patients, although COVID-19 has definitely pushed me to my max,” she admits, but she adds her training at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has helped, “Being trained in highly populous urban areas has taught me to keep my cool, stay focused, and get things accomplished.”

Dr. Harrigan’s message around social distancing is clear, “Please stay home, if you can. Understand that you may get infected by the virus and survive, however, you will bring it back to your family members who may not be in great health, including grandparents.” When asked about the one word that comes to mind when dealing with COVID-19, Dr. Harrigan said, “Resilient. Both the virus and the frontline workers, but we will prevail!” 

Emmanuel Thomas, Ph.D. '05, M.D. '07

Emmanuel Thomas, Ph.D. ’05, M.D. ’07, is the co-director of a diagnostic laboratory providing validated testing reagents and virus transport media to the Department of Pathology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He has recently given national webinars on COVID-19 as part of his work with the American Liver Foundation and the American Association for the study of Liver Diseases.

Dr. Thomas leads a program to screen for RNA viruses, including HCV and HIV. He notes, “We have been able to cope with this current pandemic using validated strategies to prevent transmission and test for SARS-CoV2” – approaches that are based on his published methods to inactivate RNA viruses so they are no longer infectious. Dr. Thomas’s message to those who are not on the front line: “My wife is an intensive care unit nurse at a local community hospital in Miami, FL, taking care of patients sick with COVID-19. The prolonged and appropriate use of PPE in this current environment cannot be understated.”

Christopher Ward, M.D. '95

Christopher Ward, M.D., ’95, is the vice chair of emergency medicine for Steward Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton, MA. Dr. Ward is helping lead the Emergency Department team through the crisis, skills he learned in part through his training at the Miller School of Medicine in emergency medicine and subsequent work as attending physician at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

“It is very easy to be negative, fearful, and stressed right now,” notes Dr. Ward, “Think of this time as an opportunity for many things: spending more time with family; reflecting on our lives, goals, and accomplishments; volunteering in our communities; helping to take care of each other, especially our older neighbors; re-examining what we might want for ourselves and our country after this is all over; improving our medical system, improving the care of our patients, and preparing for future viral outbreaks. Look forward to coming together as a community, being kind to each other, and enjoying life!”

Madelyn Dones, M.D. '97, Ayleen Pinera-Llano, M.D. '95, Linda

Keller, M.D. '87, Danielle Katz Squires, M.D. '11, Cheryl Cornely, M.D. '16

We thank Madelyn Dones, B.S. ’93, M.D. ‘97, who works with Ayleen Pinera-Llano, A.B. ’91, M.D. ’95, Linda Keller, M.D. ‘87, Danielle Katz Squires, M.D. ’11, and Cheryl Cornely, M.D. ’16, at Kings Bay Pediatrics, providing much-needed services to families during the pandemic. "Our primary role has been to ensure that infants, children, and adolescents continue to receive immunizations and well-child care on time and in the safest environment possible,” said Dr. Dones, speaking on behalf of the group.  Strict and effective social distancing clinical practices have been the most difficult change for the physicians, forcing them to limit personal interactions with the families they regularly serve.

The alumnae credit their training at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine for teaching them to be resilient and innovative. Many of them trained during the peak of the HIV crisis. Dr. Dones shares: “We had a Pediatric ICU dedicated exclusively to HIV positive children, and it was always full to capacity. These experiences prepared me in many ways for the fight against COVID 19.” Their message to those who are not on the front lines, “Be respectful to others and be safe.”

Graham S. Ingalsbe, M.D. '13

Graham S. Ingalsbe, M.D. '13, is a board-certified emergency medicine physician at a busy medical center in Reno, Nevada. During this pandemic, he is treating critically ill patients who cannot breathe on their own with known and suspected coronavirus infection, as well as, patients requiring emergent care from non-Covid 19 issues. His words from the front line:

"To anyone not directly facing this battle head-on, we need you. Because by this point the virus is everywhere, so we are all on the front lines. I need myself and my team to stay healthy and protected to care for the sickest of patients, and in order to do that we need every single person to sacrifice by staying at home, practicing social isolation, and by protecting themselves they are protecting me and my team and my family."

John Rotruck, M.D. '96

Miller School of Medicine alumnus, Captain John R. Rotruck, M.D. '96, is the commanding officer of the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy. The ship recently started providing care to patients in Los Angeles as part of their heroic COVID-19 relief effort.

Read more about Captain John Rotruck's story.

Kristy Whyte, M.D '15

Kristy S. Whyte, M.D. '15, is a board-certified emergency medicine physician at Emory Decatur and Emory Hillandale Hospitals and is working to keep patients and staff safe through the pandemic. "As an ER physician, we respond and stand tall in the face of disasters. My training at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and my residency program at Emory University, have prepared me to competently and confidently care for the critically and acutely ill with compassion and cope with the magnitude of the situation. For those not on the front line, please continue to stay home and socially distance for the betterment of yourself, family and community. Continue to love and cherish your family and friends."

Adrian Burrowes, M.D. '00

Adrian Burrowes, M.D. '00, has a message for his patients who generously donated N-95 and homemade masks, including homemade University of Miami masks with sleeves for HEPA filters. "In the face of a worldwide pandemic and a national health care supply shortage, our patients stepped up and answered the call. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude by the selflessness of our patients. These acts of kindness unite us and make our country great."

Richard Coia, M.D. '10 

Richard Coia, M.D. '10, is a board-certified emergency medicine physician and associate medical director at Rochester Regional Health in Rochester, NY, and is evaluating and treating patients with known and suspected coronavirus infection. He is taking necessary precautions by using as much appropriate PPE as possible, watching what he touches, frequently washing his hands, not touching his face, and assuming everyone is infected. His words to the public: "Stay home! This is not a joke. It is not exaggerated. You can save lives by social distancing!"

Varshasb Broumand, M.D. '95

Varshi Broumand, M.D. '95, is the chief medical officer of Christus Santa Rosa Hospital Westover Hills in San Antonio, TX, and is working with his team to keep the community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently donated 350 face shields to their local hospital. "The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has prepared me for all sorts of challenging situations as we dealt with many sick patients and had busy services when we were there in training. For those not on the front lines, if you have the means to donate supplies and equipment do so, and the best way to help is to practice social and physical distancing and frequent hand washing. The one word that comes to my mind with COVID-19 is HOPE."

Geeta Nayyar, M.D. '03

Geeta Nayyar, M.D. '03, urges the public to stay calm and informed through this #COVID19 health crisis. "We are grateful for our frontline health care workers and wish you and your loved-ones health and safety during these trying times." Read more in this Miami Herald article.

Vicky Egusquiza, M.D. ’87

Vicky Egusquiza, M.D. ’87, is a pediatrician at West Dade Pediatrics. Her training at University of Miami and Jackson Medical Hospital is helping her cope with the pandemic, which she says is reminiscent of her early training when physicians were first encountering the AIDS epidemic. "We treated the patients to the best of our abilities and did not question going into work every day. We realized this was part of what we signed up to do and we were honored to serve a population that was in need of our assistance. This epidemic is no different.” Dr. Egusquiza wants those who are not on the front lines to remember, “We are as human and thus as vulnerable as they are. We have families and fears too”

Sawlar Vu, M.D. ’15

Sawlar C. Vu, M.D. ’15, is a board-certified emergency medicine physician in Decatur, GA, who is on the front lines treating patients with suspected COVID-19. His training at Jackson Memorial Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital has taught him to deal with crisis and develop coping mechanisms. “Sometimes coping means, ‘I’m going to process this later, but right now I need to keep moving," Dr. Vu shares. "I’ve been lucky that my co-residents and I have remained close and sharing our stories with each other is one way we help each other deal with the emotional toll." His words to the public: “Think about the people in your life that you love and who are higher risk: your parents, your baby nephew, your grade school teacher. If you are careless, you can create a chain of infection that can reach so many others. Also, tell your parents you love them!”

Matthew Ciminero, M.D. ’16

Matthew L. Ciminero, M.D. ’16, is an orthopedic surgery resident at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. The orthopedic department is managing a COVID-19 unit on what was once a postpartum floor. He has gone from fixing broken bones and replacing arthritic joints, to running codes, calling families about the untimely deaths of their loved ones, and treating patients battling COVID-19. Dr. Ciminero said, “It is safe to say that the standard orthopedist does not routinely manage these issues; due to my medical school training, my team and I are effectively treating patients at the epicenter of this pandemic. Thank you, UM, for preparing me for this once-in-a-lifetime crisis.”

Aaron Mittel, M.D. ’12

Aaron Mittel, M.D. ’12, is a critical care anesthesiologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY, treating patients with COVID-19. While his primary role is clinical care, he has also been involved in the logistical side of the department’s response where he was instrumental in developing alternatives to “traditional” ventilation, including using one ventilator for multiple patients in an effort to save lives. While Dr. Mittel follows all safety protocols, he realizes having adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is a luxury and reduces his PPE use to ensure that others have the supplies they need. He finds that maintaining a semblance of cognitive "safety" in the form of exercise helps him manage the crisis.

Dr. Mittel acknowledges the wide range of sacrifices and suffering experienced by those who are not on the front lines, but have lost loved ones, or their income, or who battle a sense of disconnection during the pandemic. While health care workers deserve to be in the spotlight, he said, “Moving forward, I hope we can direct our attention to those who are battling this pandemic in other ways. I hope that society does not forget the personal and economic sacrifices we've all made to help save lives.”

Jeffrey Livingston, M.D. ’93

Jeffrey Livingston, M.D. ’93, is an otolaryngology specialist in Vero Beach, FL. He tackles emergent and urgent ear, nose, and throat issues every day of the week, from head and neck cancer to acute infections, and also consults at the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. “I am honored to provide subspecialty services to my patients in a time when access to necessary care is restricted or unavailable for many,” said Dr. Livingston. His medical team is keeping staff and patients safe through the pandemic with a range of protocols including pre-screening patients and wearing full protective gear during urgent nasal procedures.

Dr. Livingston commented on his training, “The breadth of experiences I had during my 11 years at the University of Miami School of Medicine and residencies at Jackson Memorial Hospital have provided a solid foundation for anything and everything I might face on a daily basis.” His message to those of us not on the front lines, “Be patient and try to do your part to social distance, while carrying on with all the best parts of your everyday life. This will eventually pass.”