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On March 30, National Doctors’ Day, we salute those who care for others, often while risking their own health.
From the first doctor in America to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, to one who became a patient herself, the past year of the pandemic has given plenty of reason to celebrate the heroes who got us through.
March 30 is a day set aside to honor the dedicated physicians who care for us. It began in 1933 in Georgia as the brainchild of Dr. Charles B. Almond’s wife, Eudora Brown Almond, who chose the date because on that day in 1842, the first anesthetic for surgery was used. Red carnations are the symbolic flower of choice, but anything that shows your gratitude is appropriate — even just a big “Thank you.”
The doctors here are just a few of New York’s finest health-care stars, a unique breed of professionals who have proven, especially during the extraordinary challenges of the past year, how dedicated and committed they are to helping the community.
Leading by example
Dr. Yves Duroseau, head of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, has a history of taking the lead.
Born to Haitian immigrant parents, the 49-year-old said he was “brainwashed” to become a doctor, because “they wanted us to do better and find opportunities.”
In his current post for eight years, overseeing upward of 200 staffers, in the past year he has faced the challenges of COVID-19 with unprecedented demands as head of his department.
“Exercising is important, meditating. Things that give you outlets. I became more in tune with my Peloton and went for runs in Central Park. I had to find other ways to keep calm and focused,” he said.
He needed to stay strong, since “fear doesn’t translate very well for the rest of the department,” he said, finding ways to keep emotions in check.
Last December, Duroseau was asked to become the first doctor in America to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
“I said, absolutely. Yes! I wanted to set the example that it was safe to do it. There were a lot of health disparity issues unmasked during COVID-19 and I wanted to symbolically encourage people of color to take the vaccine,” he said.
Reaching out to the underserved
Dr. Vivian Bea, 38, chief of breast surgical oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, always wanted to make a difference in her community.
Raised in Washington, DC, she was inspired to go into medicine by her pediatrician, a person of color.
“The opportunity to have a pediatrician who looked like you — I can’t speak enough about its importance,” she said. Bea attended Morehouse School of Medicine, a historically black college.
“The goal was to learn and embed myself in serving the underserved,” she said.
While training in breast clinics, Bea noted how minority women came in with advanced tumors at an alarmingly disproportionate rate. “I thought, why do the inequalities exist?” she said.
After “falling in love with surgery,” Bea decided to specialize in breast surgery, and later joined NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist a year and a half ago, attracted by its diversity and ability to address disparities head-on.
Sadly, COVID-19 also impacted her work.
“Women weren’t getting their mammograms — they were put on hold based on recommendations from the American College of Radiology,” said Bea. Having been awarded a multi-institutional grant to increase mammography screening for black women, “We decided we had potential to pivot,” she said. To this end, Bea conducted focus groups to learn about the barriers deterring women from pre-cancer screenings.
“We partnered with black churches within the community, training women [to be] lay navigators to provide breast cancer awareness education,” she said. “It’s my mission to advocate and use my voice as a young black woman to bring to light what is going on, so people can take care of their own health. There’s change that has to happen.”
Life and death decisions
For Dr. D’Andrea Joseph, knowing her work is a “calling” is key to her impact.
The chief of trauma and acute care surgery at NYU Langone Hospital Long Island, she was born in the Caribbean island of Dominica where she was inspired by her mother, who often took in folks who needed help.
“I love making a connection with a patient — calming someone coming from a place of anxiety and fear. It’s very rewarding. It’s what I’m supposed to do,” she said.
The nature of her work helped her remain focused throughout the pandemic. Last year, she was “knee deep in blood,” in the operating room saving a patient with a gunshot wound. A week following, she learned the patient had been COVID-19 positive.
“Trauma doesn’t stop for COVID-19,” she said. “We had to keep taking care of injured patients who may or may not have had the virus. There wasn’t time to test and it didn’t matter. Trauma is so immediate. You don’t get to wait to find out. For other physicians and myself, it’s not about ourselves, but taking care of others.”
Doctor becmes patient
Dr. Alin Gragossian knows what it means to live on borrowed time.
In 2019, “out of nowhere,” she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart chambers enlarge. A 33-year-old critical care medicine fellow at Mount Sinai Hospital, she found herself needing a heart transplant.
Luckily, she was the recipient of a new heart within weeks.
“If I’d had to wait longer, I would have died,” she said. “I think it made me want to do everything more. When you’re laying there in your deathbed at a young age, it makes you rethink everything in life.”
Compounding her challenging journey, Gragossian was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in her hip due to lack of blood supply, a complication from the transplant medication. Hip replacement surgery was necessary, but, with the help of family and supervisors at Mount Sinai, Graggossian has recovered and, amazingly, she’s returning to work next week.
For her, inner strength is guiding her recovery.
“You don’t realize how strong you are until something’s thrown at you,” she said.