What were you doing during Covid?
Most of us were hunkered down in our homes, scared, glued to the news, listening to information and often disinformation about the latest casualties of the pandemic, and petrified of what the next day might bring.
Many were debilitated by the terrible and scary consequences of Covid. For some, losing relatives to the disease and dealing with the pandemic’s fallout was simply too much to bear. Arguably, one of the cruelest edicts that New York State ever issued was that relatives and close family could not visit their loved ones in the hospital. As a member of clergy, I visited dozens of patients and sat with them as they took their dying breath. All they wished for was to see their loved ones one more time, to connect with them, and to say goodbye.
Heroes come in many shapes and sizes, and often the word “hero” is overused and loses its meaning and grandeur. One man who deserves this title, without question, and is a hero to so many Covid patients, is Dr. Marc Schiffman, assistant professor of clinical radiology at Weill Cornell Medicine. While many New Yorkers lay dying in the hospital, Dr. Schiffman of his own volition went to visit these patients. These were not people he knew and were not on his patient roster list. They were simply New Yorkers crying for help, many of them were patients that I reached out to Dr. Shiffman to visit. He was the angel of life to them. Very often, it was Dr. Schiffman who held their hand in their last moments. In many cases, he would use his own personal cell phone and connect patients with their families one last time.
Dr. Schiffman soon recognized that any time a patient was connected with their loved ones, something would happen to them physiologically. Sometimes they would truly come back to life; their breathing would become less labored, their blood pressure would regulate, and sometimes a smile would creep onto their face when hearing the familiar voices of their loved ones. Dr. Schiffman concluded that a patient being connected and hearing their family’s voices was paramount, if not equal, to the best medical care they could receive.
Being a man of action, Dr. Schiffman created a simple device called VoiceLove that could be placed in every patient’s room. Families sitting at home, desperately worried about their relatives, would be able to hear and connect with them at any time of the day or night. The patient could hear their family’s voice and words of encouragement and it made such an incredible difference and impact.
Without going into too much detail, many hospitals were opposed to this new technology. Dr. Schiffman often implemented this process while facing great risk and a wall of bureaucracy from political stakeholders and hospital leadership. Yet he persevered, and his actions have forever changed the lives and end-of-life experience of so many patients and families.
Today it was announced that significant funding ($3 million) was approved by the National Institutes of Health for Dr. Schiffman’s VoiceLove invention. Now, many hospitals around the country will have the opportunity to allow their patients to connect with their families through this device.
I am incredibly grateful to have gotten to know this wonderful hero, doctor, and human. On behalf of the hundreds of patients, many of whom will never have a chance to say thank you, I want to thank him and publicly recognize him, and the world of medicine owes him a great deal. I know that these patients and their families are eternally grateful for these acts of selfless love and kindness.