UAE: Covid survivor spearheads Al Ain's battle against pandemic

Abu Dhabi - Brush with contagion makes the expat doctor even more empathetic to patients


Ismail Sebugwaawo

Published: Sun 7 Feb 2021, 7:42 PM

A Hungarian doctor has been spearheading the fight against Covid-19 in Al Ain, the second-largest city in the Abu Dhabi emirate, after recovering from the viral infection.

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Though Dr David Simon, 48, has been working with infectious diseases for over 25 years, he himself had a harrowing experience after contracting SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.

Dr Simon, who has been working as a critical care consultant and the head of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Mediclinic Al Ain Hospital since 2015, is one of the thousands of professionals, whose contributions have been recognised and hailed by the Frontline Heroes Office for taking exceptional measures to protect people’s lives during the pandemic.

He has been taken aback by the virulent infection, despite his extensive experience.

“This is unprecedented. When Covid-19 swept across the world early last year, it was a biological catastrophe. In the medical profession, we could only react to a contagion, as we don’t have a specific drug or other necessary procedures,” he said.

However, he rapidly developed and fine-tuned a strategy for treating the increasing number of patients admitted to the ICU and shared his experience with his peers around the world. He lavished praise on the Department of Health, (DoH), Abu Dhabi, for its continuing guidance and support.

Working round the clock to save critical patients

In the early stages of the pandemic, Al Ain’s Covid-19 patients were treated at government hospitals. But as the viral outbreak spread, medical teams, including Dr Simon's, were asked to provide support.

In April 2020, he expanded his ICU unit and added 12 beds. All his staff was entrusted with Covid-19 critical care.

“We’re working around the clock. All hands were on the deck to treat critically-ill patients,” he said.

“We’re able to accurately assess the patient flow. However, they belonged to all age groups and nationalities and each patient’s affliction was different from the other. For instance, women, aged above 90, would win over the Covid-19 challenge, while men in their 30s were on the verge of death. I vividly recall a male patient, who was on a ventilator for three months with a tracheostomy, and fortunately pulled through in the end. Of course, I was exhausted, but the patients’ indomitable will to survive against all odds kept me going,” he added.

Doctor’s date with contagion

Last May, Dr Simon’s life turned on its head after he contracted SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.

“It was a typical symptom of raging Covid-19: The coronavirus had begun destroying a part of my lung tissue and I was feverish and exhausted,” he said.

“Honestly, I was terrified because it progressed so quickly. The weakness I felt was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I couldn’t even move two metres to the washroom. But I still sat up on my bed at home and took part in conference calls when I felt stronger.

I didn’t see my teenage children or my wife, who is an anaesthetist, for a while. They would only speak to me over the phone. It was claustrophobic. It felt strange being a patient from a doctor. My life came full circle,” he reminisced.

Dr Simon returned to work after two weeks following his recovery and home quarantine. He said contracting the virus made him even more empathetic as a doctor.

“When I spoke to my patients, I knew what they were going through,” he said.

“Recovering also helped me deal with their families emotionally, which was one of the toughest parts. Covid-19 patients were not allowed any visitors. We’re responsible for meeting the families every day to report about the conditions of their loved ones. If a patient’s condition was worsening, it was rather distressing to convey that message to h/her family members. However, I could give them confidence by citing my own case, as I had won over the Covid-19 challenge,” he said.

Last June, the DoH, Abu Dhabi, announced that Mediclinic Al Ain Hospital was free of Covid-19 cases. The heartening development allowed Dr Simon to reflect upon the facility’s contagion trajectory over the past few months.

In retrospect, Dr Simon said the key lesson from the viral outbreak is that people must take care of their own health. “If they don’t, then who will?” he asked.

“Covid-19 affected my life both personally and professionally. I was caught right in the middle and I will never forget this period, nor do I wish to,” he added.

Dr David Simon
Dr David Simon

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