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A Family With Five Doctors — And Two COVID Deaths

On the morning of April 1, Dr. Priya Khanna inched her approach from the bed room to the entrance door, utilizing partitions, doorways and railings to carry herself up lengthy sufficient to get to the stretcher ready outdoors. She had been battling COVID-19 for 5 days and was struggling to breathe.

Her mom, additionally COVID-positive, watched helplessly as EMTs in full private protecting tools guided Priya into the ambulance. Priya waved to Justin Vandergaag, a childhood pal strolling alongside her. “I’ll see you later,” he stated.

Ten days earlier, an analogous scene unfolded when Priya’s father, Dr. Satyender Dev Khanna, was hospitalized for COVID-19.

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The Khannas would quickly endure probably the most appalling of fates, as the 2 docs from the identical household encountered an sickness in opposition to which they had been fatally powerless.

Their story reveals the conundrum going through well being care employees, who care for his or her sufferers whereas exposing themselves and their family members to danger. And it underscores how unprepared U.S. hospitals nonetheless had been greater than a month after news of neighborhood transmission of COVID-19 was first detected within the nation.

COVID-19 has hit New Jersey laborious, significantly within the north the place the Khannas stay. According to a database maintained by The New York Times, the state has recorded almost 165,000 confirmed coronavirus circumstances and greater than 12,300 deaths.

News of the pandemic had unsettled Priya, a 43-year-old nephrologist within the city of Glen Ridge. She suffered from a uncommon autoimmune dysfunction referred to as small-cell vasculitis, and the remedy she took to deal with it compromised her immune system. She knew that if she contracted COVID-19 she would change into very sick.

Priya, which suggests “beloved” in Hindi, had determined in school to change into a physician and graduated from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in 2003. Both her sisters had been additionally docs. She grew to become licensed in each inside medication and nephrology, opened her personal apply and was the director of two dialysis facilities.

Priya Khanna (proper) with youthful sister Anisha Khanna-Sharma. (Courtesy of the Khanna household)(Courtesy of the Khanna household)

“She navigated the world with kindness and delight,” stated a childhood pal, Laura Stanfill. She was “extremely selfless, a fiercely devoted friend and loyal,” stated one other, Melissa Auriemma. She gave lengthy bear hugs and cherished Lizzo, Hello Kitty, designer purses and anyplace with a seaside.

Priya’s father fell sick in early March; the household is not sure how. Satyender, 78, was an immigrant from India who got here to the U.S. with a medical diploma and so little cash that he didn’t know if he might afford the taxi trip to the hospital the place he was to begin his internship. In the 1980s, he grew to become one of many first docs in New Jersey to carry out laparoscopic surgical procedure, and was a trauma and normal surgeon his complete profession.

Five days after Satyender grew to become sick, Priya’s mom, Kamlesh, a retired pediatrician, did, too. Priya, who lived together with her mother and father, instantly remoted herself from them. She grew nervous about her personal well being after a affected person coughed instantly in her face.

On March 20, Satyender was hospitalized, and a day later was positioned on a ventilator. As a courtesy to Priya’s mom, the ICU physicians let her see her husband on the hospital he had labored at for greater than 35 years. She suited up in her personal private protecting tools (PPE) and held his hand for a couple of minutes earlier than being ushered away. It was a number of weeks earlier than what would have been their 50th anniversary.

“That was the last time she physically saw him alive,” stated Dr. Anisha Khanna-Sharma, Priya’s youthful sister and a pediatrician. “After that, we could only virtually see him on the iPad.”

Priya herself was taken to Clara Maass medical middle, the 427-bed facility the place her father was being cared for, on April 1. Because her sister Sughanda, an ER physician, had her personal full-body protecting go well with, she was in a position to acquire higher entry than most guests and located a scenario paying homage to a battle zone.

Dr. Priya Khanna (seated) poses with associates Laura Stanfill (from left) Justin Vandergaag and Melissa Auriemma at her sister Anisha’s wedding ceremony in 2015. (Courtesy of the Khanna household)(Courtesy of the Khanna household)

There wasn’t sufficient correct PPE. Sughanda recalled intervening when the registration clerk, not carrying protecting gear, leaned into Priya’s face to ask her questions. Priya didn’t obtain a blanket or a pulse oximeter, and was not repeatedly related to a affected person monitor, the household stated.

Sughanda and Anisha took turns FaceTiming with Priya. She was having bother respiration, regardless of receiving 100% oxygen, and nearly urinated on herself as a result of she was too weak to stroll to the frequent toilet. She requested for a commode however by no means acquired one.

“They didn’t feed her,” stated Anisha. “My sister didn’t get a meal at the hospital for the first 2½ days.” Instead, Anisha and Sughanda requested a nurse they knew to ship meals to her, and raised the alarm with hospital executives.

In an announcement to The Guardian, RWJBarnabas Health, which operates the hospital, stated it adhered to the rules of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relating to the correct use of PPE.

“Providing high-quality patient care is our priority, and that has never wavered even as we continue to treat those who are suffering from the coronavirus,” stated spokesperson Stacie Newton. “While we do not comment on individual patients, we can assure you that all of our patients are treated with the utmost dignity and respect and any family concern is treated with attention, discretion, and privacy.”

Priya was weak however nonetheless reviewed affected person recordsdata and texted together with her substitute doctor up till she went on a ventilator. Meanwhile, her sisters tried valiantly to search out therapies. They put Priya and her father on a waitlist for the COVID-19 drug remdesivir. They sought and located tons of of matches for an experimental treatment by which blood plasma from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 is run to sufferers.

Yet there have been quite a few bureaucratic delays. By the time the sisters had been in a position to administer models to Priya and Satyender, it was too late, they stated. Although it stays unclear at what level in the middle of the sickness the unapproved remedy is most useful, Priya’s sisters are satisfied their household might have benefited from earlier remedy.

“I think the doctors and nurses and staff did a phenomenal job in terms of doing what they could with what they had,” Sughanda stated. “Was the hospital prepared for this? Absolutely not. Did they have enough resources to treat? Absolutely not. They did not have enough of anything to cover the surge of patients that were coming through the hospital.”

On April 13, Priya handed away, adopted by her father on April 21.

After Priya died, Sughanda and Anisha each obtained packages within the mail of clothes Priya had purchased for his or her kids.

Every every now and then, Auriemma, the childhood pal, rereads messages she despatched Priya whereas she was within the hospital to cheer her up.

We gotta go to Oregon.

We gotta exit for lunch.

We gotta do our film date.

“She was an excellent nephrologist. But it was short-lived,” stated Kamlesh, Priya’s mom. “She touched so many lives, I can’t even tell you. She was the kindest, sweetest person I ever met in the whole world. I think that’s why God took her away from us. She was an angel.”

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