Champions of the Cause: Blue Jays On the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

David Strawhun, ’13 ΔΤΔ, is a restless third-year medical student at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine whose entire class was suddenly pulled from clinical rotations because of the risks associated with COVID-19. Quarantined in his home in Columbus, OH, Strawhun recently discussed his experience on central Ohio’s National Public Radio station,

Not content to binge-watch Netflix as the semester slipped away, Strawhun hit the airwaves and appealed for personal protective equipment (PPE) for his peers working in ERs, ICUs and clinics. On April 1, the proud Westminster alumnus additionally took to social media on behalf of fellow Blue Jays and spouses Misty Todd, MD, ’13, and Matthew Roehrs, DO, ’13 ΔΤΔ.

“Today I want to advocate for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for our front-line healthcare workers by celebrating one of my favorite doctors and donating an additional $20 in her honor to,” Strawhun wrote of Todd, who shared classes with him at Westminster.

At the same time, a similar story played out among Westminster alumni throughout the world as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. Countless anecdotes of alumni jumping in to help their communities reached the College. Read further to learn about just a few unsung heroes in the fight against COVID-19.

Physician Blue Jays on the COVID-19 Front Lines

Misty Todd, MD, ’13, and Matthew Roehrs, DO, ’13 ΔΤΔ, MU Healthcare, Columbia, MO

How are you all faring during this situation, and has the virus made you reconsider your profession?

Matt and I are fine for now, both actively prepping and anticipating what is yet to come. Neither of us has questioned why we went into medicine. We know there’s nothing else we’d be happy doing and truly are grateful our patients have flocked to us during this time of uncertainty. Matt has been working primarily in Mizzou’s ICU, so definitely a high-risk place to be right now. Meanwhile, we are still delivering babies and taking care of patients with broken hips and heart attacks —  conditions don’t stop happening just because of a pandemic! There is certainly more uncertainty ahead, but we feel confident in our training and have worked extensively with our colleagues over the last few weeks to make action plans.

Nathan Moulton, MD, ’12, ΔΤΔ, Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellow, Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University, St. Louis, MO

Can you describe what the situation is like where you’re working right now?

As one of the major hospitals in St. Louis, we’ve seen a fair amount of cases at Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University. Now that social distancing has been put into place, my hope is that we are seeing a plateau, but only time will tell. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working in one of the intensive-care units at the hospital that is dedicated to critically ill patients with the virus or suspected to have the virus. While it has been a scary time in the country and in medicine, it’s an honor to work next to some of the bravest men and women who continue to show up, work hard and provide excellent care despite personal risk and sacrifice. The camaraderie among everyone at the hospital is unlike what I’ve experienced before in medicine. Doctors across specialties, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists and medical support staff are working closely together with a singular focus to help fight this pandemic.

Blue Jays in Business Fighting COVID-19

Gregory Rockson, ’12, mPharma Co-Founder

Gregory Rockson’s Ghana-based pharmaceutical company recently began distributing portable molecular workstations that process COVID-19 tests within 30 minutes. The workstations are rapidly being delivered to private labs as a result of slow government-sponsored testing. Rockson writes, “The [World Health Organization] has one big recommendation — ‘test, test, test.’ Aggressive testing and social distancing will allow governments to be proactive in designing interventions to slow down the rate of infections. Unfortunately, the testing rate in Africa is not high. We have fewer laboratories running tests; thus, test results take too long to be delivered. Governments cannot do it alone; the private sector needs to step in.”

That’s where Rockson’s company steps in. Through the help of Sansure Biotech and Beyer Labs, mPharma is distributing multiple test kits and one work station to labs in Ghana with plans to expand to Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia and, eventually, Zimbabwe. mPharma also is helping distribute funds to help the labs increase biosafety levels. Read more here.

Ted Richardson, ’91 ΦΔΘ, Account Manager with NETSCOUT

Fox News in St. Louis, MO, recently ran a segment that summarizes a quickly growing movement that is making use of alumnus Ted Richardson’s skills. Various Washington University physicians in cooperation with Hunter Engineering are fashioning random items into powered air-purifying respirators — PPEs desperately needed by those in the medical field. Their plea list: scuba gear, tubing, CPAP machines and 3D printers. Richardson offered the use of his 3D printer, allowing the volunteers to quickly design the respirators.

I’ve been involved with as many as a dozen other people on this project. Many of these volunteers are STEM educators at local secondary schools,” Richardson explains. “3D printing is a relatively slow process, which is why it scales better, by involving more volunteers, rather than having any one individual try to print more.”

Richardson has devoted hours in recent weeks to printing designs as well as organizing communication between individuals using the 3D printers and those assembling the units.

Learn a little more about the project here.

Individual Blue Jays Volunteering in the Battle Against COVID-19

Fathimath Shafa, ’18, of Columbia, MO, was busily applying to medical schools and physician assistant master’s degree programs when she learned about the worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment. Knowing that basic medical masks were being accepted at various local facilities, Shafa settled down to work.

She received fabric and elastic from Jan Hatfield, owner of Maid to Perfection Cleaning Company, and immediately whipped up more than 100 masks. Some of the masks were delivered recently to Fulton Medical Center by Dr. Jeremy Straughn at the suggestion of students in Straughn’s Global Inequality class.

Shafa plans to donate more masks to the Fulton Fire Department as well as Maid to Perfection. The Maldives native explains that her mother taught her to use a sewing machine, which she felt compelled to dust off recently out of personal concern for others.

“The inspiration to do this comes from all of the healthcare workers who put their own lives at stake for our safety and protection. This is my way of showing gratitude,” Shafa reflects.

Westminster students are encouraged to go out into the world and experience lives of “success, significance and service.” The eight Westminster community members featured in this story strongly reflect that mission, and the College wishes them well on their continued efforts at fighting this deadly pandemic.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.