Voices From the Front Lines: Anthony Valente, MD, Chief Medical Officer, LVH–Hazleton
BY TED WILLIAMS
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, none more so than those working on the front lines of this crisis – our health care heroes. Voices From the Front Lines is a series of interviews with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) health care providers who are working to care for patients who are ill with COVID-19, as well as those who are dedicated to helping prevent the spread of this virus.
Anthony Valente, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Hazleton, has been practicing hospital medicine there for 29 years. He received his medical training at Penn State University College of Medicine and completed his internal medicine residency with a focus on hospital medicine at Scranton/Temple Residency Program. He started as a schoolteacher in Elizabethtown, Pa., before he found he especially enjoyed helping students with their problems. Eventually, that led him to medical school.
What is every day like during the COVID-19 crisis?
It’s certainly more hectic in terms of a much higher patient load of acutely ill patients, many more using ventilators than I had ever seen. The emotional factor involved with caring for patients with COVID-19 is also something unique. It’s difficult for us to leave those emotions behind when we go home at the end of each day.
How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?
I’m not that young anymore, and I’ve found it harder physically to keep up with the pace of the demand of COVID-19. We’ve been pushed to the limit of our capabilities during this crisis. It’s heartbreaking to see how ill these patients can get. Some of them are very young. You project what their families are going through. I’ll admit, I’ve shed some tears myself for them.
What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?
Recently we had a patient who spent three weeks on a ventilator. He was with us for six weeks and hadn’t seen his wife in more than 40 days. But he made it through and recovered. We celebrated his discharge, and I watched him get up out of a wheelchair, walk to his wife and hug her for what seemed like half an hour. Those are the victories that we’ll remember when this crisis is over.
What have you learned about yourself or your team?
I’ve always believed we had an excellent intensive care team here. We have staff members who have been here for decades, and others who are relatively new. One thing the medical community has learned with COVID-19 is that laying a profoundly ill patient in a prone position can be very helpful with breathing once they’re off a ventilator. None of us had experience in moving patients to a prone position, but everyone took up the challenge eagerly. I’ve watched six or seven nurses working together to flip over a patient maybe seven or eight times one week. It was amazing to see. I thought to myself, wow, these people I work with are so impressive.
What are your rituals to keep you and your family safe?
I shower before leaving the hospital, disinfect my shoes and work clothes, and wrap everything separately. The shoes stay at work. I wear new clothes and sneakers home. Everything goes right into the wash except my sneakers, which stay in the garage. I rotate four pair of sneakers to wear to the hospital. I stay as clean as I possibly can and, knock on wood, we’ve been safe up to now.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for health care employees or the community?
People need to know this isn’t going to end anytime soon. From a biologic standpoint, there are only a few ways to get rid of a virus like this – a vaccine or medication, or herd immunity. Eventually this will pass if we keep our heads and do what we must to stay safe.
Find more inspiring stories from the front lines and beyond at LVHN.org/COVIDSTRONG.