TLS Alumni in Healthcare In Their Words: COVID-19

Jillian Kepf '07

Medicine ICU nurse working on the designated COVID unit at UK Healthcare

"My unit has been the designated unit since the first patient in Kentucky was diagnosed with COVID. Yes, there has been chaos, panic, fear, and uncertainty throughout all of this but, first and foremost, there has been an incredible group of people (I call them coworkers) willing to dive head-first into that uncertainty. I am beyond proud of the nurses, respiratory therapists, EVS workers, doctors, clerks, and spotters that have all come together to provide the absolute best care possible for the people of Kentucky. I will say going to work every day has its new challenges. Donning and doffing the protective gear needed to care for the COVID patients takes a lot of time and energy and prevents staff from following their normal routines. Before ever entering the patient’s room you have to gather everything you may need to cluster your care as much as possible. Once you are in the patient’s room you think about every step you take, your protective eye wear is fogging up, you’re hot, your gown is sticky, and you have a mask covering your mouth preventing you from fully communicating with anyone outside of the room. It can be a very isolating and lonely feeling when you are alone in the room trying to communicate through a doorway. It is a very odd game of charades to say the least. Once you are ready to exit the room, you have to think about every movement you make to safely remove the protective gear. Although it can feel isolating, there is always more than one member of the healthcare team right there ready to jump in at any time to help. I am thoroughly honored to be a critical care nurse and I will never forget how we as a healthcare team, state, country, and world have come together to fight this fight! I have to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the support and kind words. I know my coworkers and I greatly appreciate the recognition because nursing can sometimes be a thankless job."

Alex Bincang, D.O. '89

Bon Secour Mercy Health, Primary Care, Cincinnati, OH

"Like many others, my family is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. In my line of work as a family physician, I have seen many changes in day-to-day operations. My previous schedule pre-COVID-19 was a standard Monday-Friday in-person week taking care of all ages. Now I am working a schedule in which I see patients "virtually" through video visits from home along with reporting to the clinic in order to still see infants and toddlers for their well child checks to help them keep up with their important vaccinations. Along the way, I have volunteered at shifts in a drive thru-tent clinic in which I wear PPE to include the N95 mask and face shield to prevent catching COVID-19. This is a community service to help those who need testing and reassurance. At the time of this e-mail, I am awaiting to hear from the Air Force Reserves whether I will be tasked to travel to New York to respond to the national health crisis in New York. My deployment bag is ready to go as I could be asked to leave Cincinnati with less than a 24 hours notice. The convention center in Cincinnati in which my children have seen Lego exhibits and car shows is being converted to a hospital to offload the pressure on the surrounding hospitals. I have also signed up to volunteer should I be needed there as well. I will say that one thing good about the pandemic is that I have experienced quality time with my family. I have been able to accelerate my youngest's success at riding a bike. Our family has cleared out junk and in the process Lily and Cate were able to leaf through some fun memories of our recent visit to TLS. During the uncertain times as I get a chance to reflect both the past and what the future may look like after the pandemic is resolved, I hope the we can treat each other with more kindness and empathetic understanding. I am confident our educators and those in my TLS family will find a silver-lining during these trying times."

Sheila Plumlee Sanders Ferguson '78

Vice Chairman and Director, Glaucoma Service, University of Kentucky Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Yes, we seem to have landed in historic times. The novel COVID-19 virus was first recognized by an ophthalmologist in China when he saw a cluster of patients with eye complaints associated with the fever and respiratory symptoms we hear so much about. Sadly, he succumbed to the disease despite being a healthy 34 year old. UK Healthcare preparations began in January and quickly evolved as we gained better understanding of the oncoming threat. Our strategies were changing daily as new data emerged. I am pleased to report UK is currently well prepared for a surge that, thankfully, has been smaller than predicted so far. UK Advanced Eye Care is one of the few offices remaining open for urgent and emergent patients. We have continued to triage patients and - carefully, with proper screening and protection for all - provide care and surgery as needed. We have ramped up telehealth initiatives, and have even set up a process to do drive-through exams with eye pressure checks for glaucoma patients. Our doctors also stand ready to be deployed to COVID units as needed. Since many of us haven't done intensive care for years, we are undergoing training to be prepared for a supporting role. Sometimes the changes and possibilities seem overwhelming. But every day is also filled with positive, reaffirming moments. Crisis is definitely the mother of creativity! Attached picture is me with daughter, Dr. Ellen Sanders (TLS 2005), UK's one and only Pediatric Optometrist, before masks were mandatory. (By the way, it's fun to look across the room at a faculty meeting and realize your kid has become your colleague.) Our other daughter, Riley Ferguson (TLS 2011), is trying to navigate her first year of medical school at University of Cincinnati by remote learning. Tricky to recreate anatomy lab...

Ellen Sanders '05

Pediatric Optometrist, UK Healthcare

As a pediatric optometrist, COVID has definitely impacted my schedule. While most children are not in high risk categories, they all can be potential carriers so we have shut down all routine care and are only seeing urgent patients in the clinic. However, we have introduced telehealth. I was nervous at first about how exactly I could do an eye exam over zoom, but it has proven to be effective and fun! My favorite moment so far has been a four year old patient who took over the phone so that he could show me his rather impressive collection of dinosaurs. It will be interesting to see how telehealth will impact the future of healthcare after this pandemic is over. I believe that it could be easily implemented into my practice and be a useful tool for my patients! Working with my mother is just awesome. She has been my role model my entire life and is the voice in my head that constantly motivates me to be a better person, student, and doctor. Having her direct guidance during my first two years of practice has been invaluable to my development as a clinician. All of her patients and colleagues adore her and I try daily to emulate her compassion and leadership. There is also something so neat about the fact that if I have a hard day of work or life in general, my mom is not only a phone call away, but literally just down the hall.

Logan Burgess, M.D. ‘02

Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine

Things here in Alabama, like everywhere, have been a roller coaster! We have had to adapt and adjust almost daily as conditions here within our hospital change. I have really been impressed with the problem-solving ingenuity within the hospital as well as the support of the community. We have had local auto plants making ersatz protective shields for intubation, engineers 3D printing adapters to retrofit fancy snorkels into N-95 masks, and daily lunches donated by some wonderful local restaurants. My role in Anesthesiology and Critical Care medicine means that I am at different times working on the airway team intubating patients with respiratory failure, managing ventilators in the ICU, providing care in the ORs for patient undergoing urgent surgery, resuscitating Trauma patients in the ED, and helping manage expectant mothers in our Maternity Ward among other duties. The virus often infects asymptomatic patients as well so we’re extra careful with everyone! Every day I get to use the intellectual foundation laid by my time at TLS. I draw often from the lessons of scientific wonder from Ms. Zimmerman (albeit unrelated to photosynthesis), patience from Mr. Platt, kindness from Ms. Lounsbury, personal health from Ms. Merritt and Mr. Parlanti, personal responsibility from Ms. MacCarthy, and so many more who continue to teach! Even more Dr. Bonzo-Sims continues to be a great teacher, mentor and friend to me and many of my Class of 2002!

Lindsey Waldman Engel '02

Outpatient Family Physician, COVID Clinic, Madison, WI

In regards to the virus, it has certainly changed my practice in some significant ways. After completing my residency in family medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 2019, I took about six months off to spend time with my now twenty-month-old son, Evan. I started my career as an outpatient family physician on February 24, 2020 at a clinic in the greater Madison area. Within two weeks, clinical life had changed quite a bit due to the effects of the virus. Like many others across the country, our healthcare system is trying to practice social distancing to protect our vulnerable populations, so we have transitioned to a model of primarily video visits with established patients when needed. Given that I had not yet had time to establish a robust patient panel, I was redeployed by our healthcare system to work in the COVID clinic, where we diagnose and triage patients with suspected COVID-19. As our understanding of the virus is ever evolving, we are constantly changing how we approach testing and care, so every day is different. So far, Wisconsin had been pretty successful in flattening the curve with social distancing - however, we have seen a slight uptick in cases in the past week, so hard to know what the future will hold. I have been assigned to the second wave of backup hospitalists in case we have a surge of cases and need all hands on deck. It is certainly an interesting time to start my career!

Eli Zimmerman, M.D. '99

Vascular neurologist and Director of Medical Student Education for the Department of Neurology at Vanderbilt

I am amazed by how quickly everyone in the medical community has adapted to the new world we are living in. I have been seeing patients via teleneurology for several years, but that has become the main way we are seeing outpatients given physical distancing requirements and the hopes of keeping healthy patients from coming to the hospital. It has been quite an adjustment, but I am impressed by colleagues’ flexibility and even more by patients’ eagerness to make the changes. Vanderbilt has done a great deal of preparation quickly, in order to be best prepared if and when we have a large surge of sick COVID patients, and we are all being prepared to be deployed to other roles in the hospital, if the need arises. My other role is in medical education, and we have had to make changes rapidly. I direct the clinical neurology rotation for all medical students, and with about 3 days’ notice, we had to change to an all-virtual curriculum, as students are no longer permitted to be in clinical settings. I have been able to share strategies and setbacks with my sister, Heidi Zimmerman Simons ’03, and mom, Leanne Zimmerman, both of whom have done the same as they are current TLS teachers! It has been an unexpected challenge to upend what has been done successfully for years. And though I obviously don’t wish this pandemic on the world, it will be really interesting to see what innovations it drives. Always looking for silver linings!

Alex Kiefer '06

Second-year OBGYN Resident, Stony Brook University Hospital, Long Island in New York

In early March, I had a lot of trouble imagining the impact that COVID-19 would have on my day-to-day job and my life outside of work. Shortly after that, the numbers here in New York, along with feelings of fear and uncertainty, quickly started to ramp up. Initially, we cancelled all elective cases and all of our non-urgent office visits (except for our pregnant patients). All of our vacations were cancelled. Patients were prohibited from having visitors. We started wearing masks at all times, both at the hospital and then in public. Then, in early April, all of the OBGYN residents, along with most of the other residents in the hospital, were re-deployed to cover medicine floors and ICUs. At that time, two thirds of our 600-bed hospital was COVID positive. It seems we have reached plateaued in the last few days, so I hope to go back to Labor and Delivery soon. Although I never could have imagined anything like this happening to all of us, I am thankful for the support of my husband and my family, my co-workers, and our Stony Brook community. And I am learning not to take simple things for granted, like good health, drinks with friends, and finding peanut butter at the grocery store.

Lee Kiefer '08

Second-year medical school, leave of absence for Olympic Fencing Qualifying

In March of 2019, I finished my second year of medical school at the University of Kentucky and commenced a leave of absence to focus on qualifying for Tokyo 2020. In mid- March as the number of COVID cases in Italy started to soar, my last Olympic qualification tournament was cancelled. Two weeks later, the International Olympic Committee postponed the Games until the summer of 2021. As a result of this necessary decision, my training and competition schedule was put on an indefinite hold. Instead of training for 15 hours a week, I take jogs around the neighborhood and get creative by looking up workout videos on Youtube. Instead traveling to Germany next weekend, I will stay at home and enjoy quality family time. Right now life is different, sometimes scary, and always uncertain, but my family and I have also found moments of quiet, creativity, and reflectiveness. For that we are grateful.

Sean Stokes, M.D., M.S.

General Surgery Resident, PGY6, University of Utah

Fortunately, Utah has been able to stall the predicted surge of COVID-19 critically ill patients with great county leadership and compliant social distancing. Thus far, it has been manageable, but the predicted rise in the number of cases has been projected to occur over the next 4-6 weeks with a peak in late May/early June. In general surgery, we receive training in critical care, thus our 4th and 5th year residents are among the first back-ups called to help with if we see a surge in our ICUs similar to NYC or Seattle. Thankfully, as I noted above, that surge has not yet become a reality, and I sincerely hope that we can avoid the difficult situations confronted by our colleagues around the country. My role during the pandemic has been both administrative and clinical. Administratively, I have helped with the hazard call schedule for the general surgery residency. This has been challenging given that two of our residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Also, as one of the rising chief residents tasked with the educational curriculum, I have worked with our program director to create educational content for our residents despite the current situation. The shake-up of normal clinical operations has led to interesting dilemmas regarding case numbers and educational requirements for graduation. Clinically, I am one of two residents tasked with running the surgical oncology, breast, and colorectal services at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital. As you can imagine, there are several cancer cases which cannot be delayed despite the imminent danger of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in difficult situations, as our hospital has a “no visitation” policy which does not allow close friends and family to be in the hospital with their loved ones. I cannot imagine being hospitalized for a week after major cancer surgery without this integral support network. I have found that the human element of my job (while already the most important aspect) has become even more important as I am obligated to directly support my patients at bedside and communicate with their families promptly to alleviate the fears and anxiety in these circumstances.

John Gilbert, M.D. '00


Massachusetts is currently reporting the third highest number of COVID-19 cases of all US states, behind New York and New Jersey. We have not yet reached our peak. The hospital that my private practice serves is situated in the fourth most affected city in Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Other than New York City, we are basically at "ground zero.” While my degree of patient interaction as a radiologist is less than, say, a critical care internist or ER physician, my group still does point of care ultrasound, various image-guided procedures, fluoroscopy studies, and a host of other “boots on the ground” activities where colleagues and ancillary staff are at potential risk of exposure. We are working remotely to the extent feasible and there have been significant challenges, but at the end of the day our commitment is to patients. We are making it work, one day at a time.

Katherine Bandoroff, N.P. '04

Nurse Practitioner in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

We are very fortunate that the pediatric population has been protected from the rampant COVID-19 virus. It is not impacting the pediatric population at nearly the same intensity or severity. The majority of the focus for our institution is protecting the staff and preparing to help the adult hospitals if and when a surge hits our area. Our hospital has made several changes to comply with social distancing and employee screening, but my day to day work flow is pretty similar. We still have plenty of children born with congenital heart disease that need ICU care and surgery. We are running with a "bare-bones," weekend model staffing which allows us to keep as much staff home as possible. All employees that can work remotely are staying off site. Most elective surgical cases and clinical appointments have been delayed; however, heart surgery can only wait so long, if at all. We have not seen that much of a decrease in our daily patient load. During rounds, our pharmacists and dietitians who normally round in person with us are skyping in from home. Each employee has their temperature taken every time they come onto campus and we are asked about any recent symptoms. While at work, we are wearing masks 24/7 and protective eyewear in patient care areas. This week we started screening every patient going to the OR with a COVID test prior to their operation. We have opened a special isolation unit for patients who are high risk or under investigation with symptoms; however, the volume of those patients has remained low. In the beginning, there were so many emails, conversations, and changes happening by the hour. It was overwhelming to keep up with at first. However, as we have settled in, this has just become part of our daily routine. Aside from wearing masks all the time, not much has changed and we still provide the same essential care to our patients. For now to play our part, we simply continue to take the best care of our cardiac kids, stay at home when we are not at work, and prepare to jump in to help the adult ICUs when necessary.

Stephen Chan, M.D., Ph.D, '88

Director of Vascular Medicine Institute, Pittsburgh, PA

My role at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is two fold, serving as a physician and scientist. Currently, I serve as the Director for the Vascular Medicine Institute where we study fundamental mechanisms of disease of the heart and blood vessels. I also am a practicing general cardiologist in our Cardiology Division. During the hectic weeks since February, our entire institute and medicine program has been busy strategizing and implementing protocols to brace for a surge of COVID patients while ensuring that our research programs continued to maintain forward progress in our discoveries of new therapies in cardiovascular disease. In that context, our research institute has shifted many resources to studies of COVID-19 (similar to bourbon distilleries changing over to producing hand sanitizers – we all are trying to do our part). I have also been focused on protecting our most vulnerable staff in the Institute, in my lab, and in my patient population. Since I have served as an attending physician on the inpatient cardiology service during this time, my family and I considered ways to protect my wife and 3 young boys (Zachary 11, Isaac 9, and Calvin 2) if I were to be exposed and infected. Moving into the basement or staying in a hotel were both real options. Fortunately, I have not had any substantial unprotected exposures, which allowed our family to stay together – that has been a true blessing.

Kyle Rosenstein, M.D. '03

Chief Resident and board-certified internal medicine physician working as a hospitalist at UK Chandler Medical Center and the Lexington VA Medical Center.

"Fortunately, thanks to great steps in social distancing taken by the people around Kentucky, my time has been spent working with the UK Healthcare team in strategic planning for a potential surge in Covid-19 cases and not an actual patient surge. As the Chief Resident for the internal medicine program, I am coordinating the deployment of our team to help staff needed services throughout the hospital. The IM residency program is the largest program and also one of the best equipped to care for the complex medical care of those hospitalized with Covid-19. Working with the pulmonary/critical care staff and fellows of UK and hospitalists, we provide the backbone of physician care for patients in this region that present with Covid 19 complications. Along with the administrative side of my job, I am also a board-certified internal medicine physician and stay busy working as a hospitalist at UK Chandler Medical Center and the Lexington VA Medical Center."

James Lagrew, M.D. '02

Board certified physician who practices general, surgical and cosmetic dermatology in Central Kentucky.

"As a dermatologist, I am certainly far from the frontline of battling COVID-19. Our practice, like all offices, has been affected. We have transitioned quickly to telemedicine to serve or patients from a safe remote distance. Additionally, we are seeing patients with skin emergencies to try to keep them away from the Emergency Room and hospital system to preserve those resources for patients with the virus."

Andrea Waldman, M.D. '01

Dermatology resident, Montefiore Medical Center, New York, NY

As a dermatology resident in New York City, my co-residents and I have been deployed to the frontlines to work on the COVID hospital floors and intensive care units at Jacobi Medical Center. I am currently working along side military physicians and FEMA nurses from all over the nation. My medicine team consists of an Air Force family practice physician and residents from several specialties including radiology, dermatology, general surgery, gynecology, neurology, and anesthesia. We are all practicing outside of our respective specialties. Initially, PPE was very limited, but adequate PPE is now available for all health care workers. I spend my day directly caring for patients, managing ventilators, and communicating with families. While I look forward to getting back to practicing dermatology, this experience has been unique and rewarding!

Ann Mary Robertson Belek, M.D. '95


Although I have not been on the front lines throughout this pandemic, my practice has changed significantly. Most of my patient visits are now virtual (phone or video) with only occasional office visits for essential and immediate needs that cannot be met virtually. I do much of my work remotely, coming into the office about once a week. As a rheumatologist, most of my patients are on immunosuppressive medications which put them in a higher risk category with COVID-19, so I have had a lot of discussions with patients about how to best manage their individual risk. We’ve also faced critical medication shortages, most notably with hydroxychloroquine which is an essential medication for lupus and other autoimmune diseases and received some press as a potential therapy for COVID-19. I have been trained in inpatient palliative care as part of our hospital’s surge plan. Thankfully, so far California has not experienced a surge that would overwhelm our usual hospital capacity. I am grateful that sheltering in place has helped to flatten the curve and I wish everyone health and safety going forward.

Paul G. Preston, M.D. '73

San Francisco Medical Center, Department of Anesthesia

Covid is pretty scary stuff. Please tell folks to be careful on this; it’s real. So far we’re holding the line in California, but everything is on hold. I am an anesthesiologist and a patient safety executive for Kaiser Permanente, the managed health care consortium. Organizing people so patients get better care, I work on reliable surgical care, using clinical pathways to ensure each step in an operation is covered. With a TLS connection, my mentor in patient safety has long been Dr. David Lawrence, former chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, the son of founding Lexington School history teacher, Amos M. Lawrence.

Thomas Falace, M.D. '00

Resident, Prisma Health - USC in Columbia, SC

As a resident, I have been relatively protected from the majority of Covid-19 cases, both on the general medicine wards and the MICU, but I have been involved in the care of many unfortunate patients who are infected, nonetheless. We have discontinued all but the rarest of visitation in the inpatient setting, and as an organization, we are now requiring masks and strict social distancing in all public areas of the hospital and clinics. There are site managers on all Covid floors, roles filled primarily by nurses from other areas of the hospital or around the country. These people help ensure that all team members don and doff PPE appropriately. Many rotations have been canceled. For instance, I am supposed to be on Geriatrics at the moment, but instead have been working outside the hospital on curriculum development and waiting on call to fill in for other senior residents as they are quarantined awaiting test results or refused entry from the hospital due to fever measured at check points. With Emergency Room Covid tests now resulting in a matter of hours, there is some level of absurdity (and subsequent gallows humor) that team members must wait multiple days based on the decision to limit the types of testing provided. This is worsened by the strain already placed on the personal and material resources of our healthcare system. Here in South Caroline we have been lucky in our relatively low number of cases, but we are subject to the whims of government officials with far different priorities than our own - formal political affiliation aside - so we await the dropping of the proverbial other shoe as we rush to roll back social protections. In the outpatient setting, we are seeing few patients in person and now are conducting primarily phone or video visits. There are advantages and disadvantages, but I suppose at least it provides the illusion of safety. Also, the connection has a tendency to "fail" when patients become belligerent, a feature sorely lacking in a face-to-face visit.

John Marshall, M.D. '76

Director, The Ruesch Center for the Cure of GI Cancers

Kathy Thompson Murray, M.D. '69

Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

The biggest change for us has been the jump to telemedicine. This was a rapid learning process but we are there, and it will continue for some patients even after our clinics reopen – those from hours away are very appreciative. COVID will resurface and life is very uncertain until we start testing/tracking cases like we really should be doing in the US. Bottom line – wear a mask and continue social distancing!


Created with an image by CDC - "This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)."