Married Auburn alumni caring for COVID-19 patients in Boston

Published: May 15, 2020
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Auburn University alumni Jordan and Katie Anderson were adjusting to the new normal as first-time parents when the COVID-19 pandemic upended the world.

Now their new normal is not only parenting 5-month-old Rowan, but caring for patients under stringent safety protocols in a city hit hard by the coronavirus.

The city of Boston has had 11,284 COVID-19 cases and 542 related deaths, as of this week.

The Andersons see it firsthand. Jordan is a resident physician in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard University-affiliated teaching hospital, while Katie is the chief physician assistant in the surgical breast oncology division at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They are also resident tutors at Harvard, advising undergraduates who are interested in careers in medicine.

Jordan, a native of Roanoke, Virginia, and Katie, a native of Franklin, Tennessee, each earned Auburn degrees in biomedical sciences in 2010. Jordan was a member of Auburn’s swimming and diving team and was named a Rhodes Scholar in 2009.

The pair met in organic chemistry class and married in Katie’s hometown in 2010. They then moved to Oxford, England, for Jordan to pursue graduate studies as Auburn’s first Rhodes Scholar since 1980.

Jordan said he became interested in medicine as a profession while at Auburn.

“I was interested in thinking about how we can better deliver care to patients,” he said. “I was particularly interested in understanding how different social factors, such as poverty, race, housing and geography, influence health outcomes.”

These interests led Jordan to pursue a course of study in medical anthropology at Oxford.

“I came away with a better understanding of how disease is embedded within social, political and economic structures, which is particularly interesting to think about when considering the groups of people who are being hardest hit by COVID-19,” he said.

After Jordan completed his master’s degree, the Andersons moved back to the states. Katie enrolled in school to be a physician assistant, and Jordan started working with MissionPoint Health Partners, a health care start-up focused on improving patient outcomes and lowering health care costs for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

The couple moved yet again in 2014 after Katie finished school and Jordan was admitted to Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Katie and Jordan became first-time parents on Nov. 21, 2019, when their son, Rowan, entered the world.

“Parenthood has been an amazing blessing,” they said.

They have been grateful to be able to spend so much time with him in his first few months, but not necessarily under these circumstances. Jordan was home, on paternity leave, when the pandemic began. So, he spent that time reading reports from epidemiologists and physicians in China and Italy. Since returning to Brigham and Women’s, though, he’s been on the front lines, participating in the hospital’s efforts to address the pandemic.

In the Intensive Care Unit, Jordan and other internal medicine doctors are caring for patients with COVID-19. The worst of the pandemic is now behind them, but Jordan said new cases are continuing to present and they could expect to see small outbreaks and clusters of COVID-19 cases for months to come.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Wednesday that the city reported its first day without new deaths from COVID-19 since early March when no new deaths were reported on Monday.

Jordan is also heavily involved in Brigham and Women’s efforts to enhance virtual care, either by phone or video, for patients who are concerned about symptoms of coronavirus, as well as patients who are more vulnerable and at a higher risk for severe infection. 

COVID-19 has significantly reduced the number of in-person visits for patients with chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, making it even more critical for staff like Jordan to actively reach out to them virtually and provide care from a distance.

Jordan continues to be involved in a project at Brigham and Women’s called the COVID protocols.

“At the start of the pandemic, doctors were scrambling to understand how to treat this novel infection since there were no set protocols for how to treat severely ill patients,” he explained. “To help organize evidence that was being produced all over the world, I, along with a group of residents and fellows at Brigham and Women’s, began to collect best practices for treating COVID-19 in critically ill patients.”

Jordan is the section editor of the cardiac arrest protocol, which describes how hospitals should care for COVID-19 patients who develop cardiac arrest. This work at Brigham and Women’s was recently profiled in The New Yorker

For Katie, COVID-19 initially forced the cancer institute and Brigham and Women’s to postpone breast cancer surgeries, in an effort to preserve resources and prepare for an influx of patients, potentially to be cared for in their operating rooms and surgery recovery units.

Katie said they worked closely with the medical oncology team to determine which patients could safely be treated with systemic chemotherapy until it would be acceptable to perform surgery.

It became Katie’s responsibility to call these patients and tell them that the removal of their cancer was delayed. She said they are working with hospital leaders to construct a plan to get these patients to surgery as safe and quickly as possible once the operating rooms reopen. 

Since surgical cases around the hospital have been delayed, Katie said surgical staff like herself have been deployed to other parts of the hospital. Before working in surgery, she worked in the emergency department for two years, so she is now on-call to rejoin the emergency department if staffing shortages require it.

“So far, I haven’t been needed in that capacity,” she said.

Like her husband, Katie has also been involved in virtual medicine. In an effort to limit exposure, she and her colleagues are performing post-op visits virtually, rather than in-person.

With so much unknown about the coming months and a post-COVID-19 world, the Andersons are managing under new circumstances.

“Like many people around the world, we are finding a new normal rhythm, learning how to provide virtual care to patients, learning how to be safe in public spaces and learning how to support one another and our community during this trying time,” said Jordan. “We both feel very humbled to be able to help care for and support our patients during this historic crisis, but there is also a very real fear and anxiety as we go to the hospital and worry about being exposed to the virus.”

As Brigham and Women’s anticipates a continuation of COVID-19 cases for some time, Jordan will continue to work in the hospital on COVID hospital floors and intensive care units, while Katie will be going back to the operating room in the coming weeks to begin operating on the growing backlog of patients waiting for their cancer surgery.

“For now, we are trying to take it one day at a time, finding immense joy and inspiration in Rowan and his big smiles,” Jordan said. “We look forward to a time in the uncertain future when this will all be behind us and Rowan can meet the rest of his family and hopefully travel to Auburn for a football game and see where his parents met.”

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