Cedars-Sinai staff reflects on challenges, breakthroughs 1 year into pandemic

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The first 365 days of COVID-19 in our community went fast and slow at the same time.

Days in lockdown seemed to linger, yet, we witnessed the rapid arrival of treatments and vaccines. For Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, it was a marathon riddled with stops and starts.

Twelve months seemed to last forever. Yet, for respiratory therapist LaShone Mays, everything happened so fast.

"I just recall thinking this bad. This is really, really bad," she said.

With the first wave sweeping the country, the staff at Cedars-Sinai felt prepared. But, the patient surge plunged them into uncharted waters.

Pulmonary and critical care director Dr. Peter Chen says the biggest challenge was how to defeat an enemy unknown.

"We started getting so many patients. We had to figure out how to put the patients into the hospital and where to put them," he said. "We really had no medicines at the time for these patients."

In bed after bed, doctors turned to proning patients to help oxygenate defeated lungs.

"To walk through and see the backs of people's heads is a very eerie feeling," Mays said.

She and her team used all their training and tools to open ravaged airways.

With ICU staff overwhelmed, it was all hands on deck.

"People that normally weren't doing viral or respiratory diseases would come in and join in the fight," Chen said.

Early successes signaled hope. Chen and his research partners were one of the first to study remdesiver and they made great strides testing monoclonal antibodies.

"We really focused hard on enrolling patients for that trial because we had a lot of faith that this had a lot of good science behind it," Chen said.

Cedars-Sinai scientists were also the first to discover that in Los Angeles County, the virus had changed.

"We found that the CAL.20 variant that was populating, and really growing through our communities," Chen said.

By the second surge, frontline workers discovered no one treatment strategy delivered the same results in every patient. If the virus didn't play by rules, neither would they.

"Sometimes you had to," Mays said. "Yes, we've tried all this and this doesn't really seem to be working. What if we try this?"

Exhaustion set in. Frontline employees sat silent in break rooms. Reaching out is how Mays cared for her co-workers.

"Mostly validating them to help them understand that what they feel is appropriate," she said.

Then the first vaccines were delivered to Cedars-Sinai. With it, a morale boost to colleagues who missed each other's company.

"Now that we can get back to more of that, it's definitely one of the greatest benefits from the vaccine," Mays said.

Looking back, Chen said, the biggest lesson learned is with collaboration, all things are possible.

"If you really think about how quickly we came together to develop these medications and develop vaccinations, it was quite a feat," he said.

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