PA graduate, current student go to NYC to help with COVID-19 pandemic

PA Dana Pilz in PPE in New York City hospital

With two sons, both under the age of 6, and her husband at home in Ohio, the decision to leave and help others impacted by COVID-19 in New York City wasn’t easy.

Dana Sharosky Pilz PA’04 thought long and hard, and recalled why she went into the health-care industry in the first place.

“I always wanted to make a difference, to work doing something for the greater good,” she says. “I left my family to come help where I was needed. It was a big decision as no one could say what I would be doing or where. I knew with my emergency background I could be of use here.”

Dana has been helping in New York City since early April, and most recently was working in an overflow facility that was converted into a working hospital after being abandoned since the 1990s. NYC has been the epicenter of cases in the U.S., reaching almost 25,000 deaths by June 1, since the nation was put on a lockdown to flatten the curve and help save lives.

“I am treating those who are less fortunate and cannot return home or to their shelters while they have COVID-19,” she says. “We are also treating those who are less acute and as an intermittent ‘stop’ between the hospital and a sub-acute rehab facility, as well as some of the 12 percent who survived being on a vent for month(s) after being infected with COVID. It really has been an emotional and amazing experience to care for these survivors.”

Dana has worked at Trillium Creek Dermatology & Surgery Center for more than four years, and prior to that worked in emergency medicine for 12 years in Virginia and Ohio.

Miranda Collins, Director of Physician Assistant Studies Program, says keeping up with PA alumni on Facebook has been rewarding and exciting.

“Even after 16 years, I find out the great things they are doing. When I saw Dana’s posts about volunteering in NYC, I was amazed,” Collins says. “I’m not surprised, but rather amazed because Dana was always a caring and compassionate person but in awe-amazed that she and her young family were sacrificing so much for her to provide care to patients without any. Reading her initial posts and seeing her photos shed light on how dire the situation was; but over time, you could see the impact being made by the dedicated providers who chose to put others' needs before their own. The program is immensely proud that Dana is an MCPAP alumna.”

Dana believes the risk was worth it, but she is also aware that restrictions placed on businesses and individuals by governors and local officials have become a political lightning rod. What she has witnessed this spring and now stretching into the summer, is beyond anything she ever imagined, and it has taken an emotional toll.

“I had never seen someone talking to me in complete sentences with oxygen levels so low; and then decompensate very quickly. We’ve never had to lock family members out of the ED and allow patients to die ‘alone’ because it was so contagious,” Dana says. “We’ve never had all floors of major hospitals set with vents to accommodate the mass amounts of patients coming in. …

“There is still a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus. We do have research departments in every major hospital here in NYC and they are all collaborating together to try to find the answers. I hope we are able to develop a better treatment and effective vaccine soon. What we do know: this is NOT our ‘typical’ virus.”

Dana is not quite sure when she will return home, but she credits her husband, Jon, with keeping things as normal as possible for their sons, Nolan and Landen.

“The boys are doing quite well and their dad is a real superhero,” she says. “We have a village that has really supported us during this venture. This is the longest I’ve ever been away from my family. Their grandma and one of our neighbors watch the boys while dad is at work.”

Possibly the toughest day was when she missed Landen’s fifth birthday party.

“It was a car parade, but I was able to feel like I was there thanks to my husband,” she says. “He has really made sure I’ve been included in our boys’ day-to-day adventures, and we FaceTime a lot.”

There’s also a good chance she will miss Nolan’s seventh birthday party as she expects to be home to quarantine around June 13.

Emily Chafins headshotDana was not the only Marietta College Physician Assistant connection to COVID-19 and New York City. When her psychiatry clinical rotations were suspended, Emily Chafins PA’20 joined some friends and they sailed on a 50-foot yacht from the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Virginia, to New York to volunteer. They docked at ONE15 Brooklyn Marina and slept on the boat.

“We were blown away by the kindness of the marina staff,” Emily says. “They allowed us to dock for free and they just opened their doors to us to have access to food. They rushed to get a shower and bathroom put in for us.”

At first, Emily worked at The Bowery Mission, which provides meals for residents of a drug and alcohol addiction recovery program, as well as feeds about 300 homeless people a day.

“This doesn’t count for anything toward PA school or for our clinical experience, but I have a really strong faith in the Lord and I felt I need to take this opportunity to help our neighbors who are struggling,” Emily says. “I had a great opportunity to help in the community and do some volunteer work with a great operation.”

After about four weeks, Emily was ready to start work at New York Presbyterian Hospital, but she had to turn it down because clinicals in Ohio would restart before the contract ended on May 31.

“I was disappointed but also excited to return to Ohio and finish my clinicals,” she says. “This is the peak of why I chose to go into this field. This is the worst time in some people’s lives, and I wanted to be there to help.”

Collins said this experience will be something Emily recalls throughout her career.

“Knowing how compassionate and caring Emily is, I was not even a little surprised when she told me she wanted to volunteer in NYC during this crisis,” Collins says. “Since COVID-19 paused all clinical rotations, the program has created a virtual academic rotation. This remote structure allows students to complete the work from anywhere, including from a boat in a marina. The program is extremely proud of Emily and her desire to serve others.”

Both the graduate and soon-to-be graduate agree that their experience at Marietta College helped them during their time in New York.

“The reason I chose to go to Marietta was I loved the small program. The professors are genuine and they have an open-door policy,” Emily says. “Mrs. Collins kept in touch with me the entire time, and I was honored at how she has checked on me and supported me.”

Dana adds, “The professors and staff in the PA program were wonderful at Marietta College. They gave me a solid PA education/foundation on which to build. I have also been fortunate enough to be paired with some excellent physicians over the years for continued on-the-job training, which has been invaluable. All of this has given me the confidence to work where I am today.”