Gabriel Lockhart, MD, could feel the tension in the air when he arrived in New York City last March to help his pulmonology colleagues at Mount Sinai in the battle against COVID-19.
“I had come from Denver, where no one was wearing masks, so seeing my Uber driver wearing a mask and hearing him reassure me that he had wiped everything down in his car was a real shock to the system,” says Dr. Lockhart, Assistant Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health—one of 13 physicians who traveled from the Colorado hospital to lend their expertise to Mount Sinai during the height of the pandemic.
More shocks came in quick succession. The Mount Sinai West physician who introduced Dr. Lockhart to the hospital’s intensive care unit called out sick the next day and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. The patients Dr. Lockhart encountered were the sickest he had ever seen. Furthermore, two patients he thought had improved enough that they might come off assisted breathing at the end of his week-long tour instead died from unexpected cardiac arrest.
“It was tough,” says Dr. Lockhart, who has a subspecialty outpatient clinic focused on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at National Jewish Health. “It was physically and emotionally demanding for me, and I really felt for the physicians and the residents at Mount Sinai, knowing they had been experiencing this every day for weeks.”
Dr. Lockhart returned to Denver and took a few days off to recover from the anxiety, but he could not stop thinking about his colleagues at Mount Sinai. Realizing he could do more and learn more about the disease, he returned for a second week-long round, this time at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
“It was still intense, but this time there was more of a system in place, an evolution in the approach to treatment, and a little more optimism that things were headed in the right direction,” he says.
There was also more opportunity for Dr. Lockhart to get to know his Mount Sinai counterparts. He engaged in long conversations with pulmonary critical care attending staff about the progress they had made in their approaches to treating patients. “One conversation I had with a physician about socioeconomic and racial disparities in New York City spawned a lecture that I delivered,” he says. “We exchanged numbers and became Facebook friends, so it was a rewarding experience in that regard.”
In the months since then, Dr. Lockhart has applied the experience and knowledge he gained at Mount Sinai to achieve positive outcomes for patients who have presented with COVID-19 at National Jewish Health. “It was encouraging to see the kind of cooperation that occurred between us and Mount Sinai,” he says. “I think it is reflective of how the whole medical community came together to tackle this pandemic, and I hope that spirit of collaboration remains strong going forward.”
Gabriel Lockhart, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine) at National Jewish Health