A salute to heroes in the pandemic war

They’re deep in the trenches. Health care workers and medical professionals fighting a war with a common enemy: the coronavirus.

For months, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, as well as researchers and mental health care professionals, have put their own personal safety on the line to save lives. They’ve sacrificed time with loved ones, nights of sleep and even the right to live in their own homes while caring for COVID-19 patients.

Jmore proudly recognizes the health care heroes among us. Hundreds of members of our community are on the front lines, researching treatments and vaccine possibilities, caring for the critically ill and providing strength to those struggling with this horrific virus.

Here are some of their stories.

At Johns Hopkins, doctors and researchers are at the forefront of the pandemic, conducting experiments and clinical trials to find answers about the coronavirus.

Dr. Shmuel Shoham is one of those doctors, investigating the use of plasma from recovered survivors as a preventive treatment.

“Doctors have used antibodies as a way of preventing infections for years,” he says. “Antibodies are good at preventing an infection and treating it early.”

An infectious disease specialist at Hopkins, Dr. Shoham is working on two studies along with his colleague, Dr. David J. Sullivan. The first study is a post-exposure prophylactic one, while the second examines using plasma as a treatment.

“If you are exposed to COVID-19, you have about a 20 percent chance of coming down with the virus,” Dr. Shoham says. “That means anything from sniffles to being really sick. The individuals who are a part of the first study will either get plasma with antibodies or plasma without antibodies post-exposure so we can see if the antibodies prevent an infection. The second study is looking at individuals who are already sick but not sick enough for the hospital. We are seeing whether those who receive plasma with antibodies versus a controlled plasma can avoid hospitalization.”

Dr. Shoham’s interest in researching treatments for COVID-19 peaked early in the pandemic. As a clinician who specializes in infectious disease in transplant patients, Dr. Shoham understands the serious impact respiratory tract infections can have on his patients. He conducts research, along with seeing patients, to devise solutions to keep his patients healthy.

“The body makes a ton of antibodies for each virus,” he says. “Some of those antibodies will be effective in treating or preventing the virus and some won’t. We are hoping with these studies, we can identify which antibodies are the really good ones so when people start making the vaccine they can go after the antibodies that work.”

There are more than a dozen medical centers across the nation signed up to participate in the research.

“I usually have a 50 percent success rate for enrolling patients for clinical trials, but for these studies everyone wants to sign up,” Dr. Shoham says. “There are only a handful of places in the country that could make studies like these happen so quickly, and Hopkins is one of those places. There are hundreds of people involved in these studies, and it’s been amazing to see the entire medical and scientific community step up and help.”