Majid Sadigh, M.D.
In late 2014, Margaret Tandoh, M.D., and Majid Sadigh, M.D., traveled to Liberia to treat Ebola patients at the height of the epidemic in West Africa. They spent countless hours in the Ebola treatment units hastily set up to handle the influx of people seeking care, tending to the sickest patients despite a lack of basic resources. For their efforts, they were part of the group named by Time Magazine as 2014 People of the Year.
Tandoh, an assistant professor of surgery and associate dean for diversity and inclusion, and Sadigh, a UVM associate professor of medicine and director of the Global Health Program at UVM and clinical teaching partner Danbury Hospital/Western Connecticut Health Network, both had experience with dire situations prior to traveling to Liberia. As a trauma surgeon and infectious disease expert respectively, they took a certain amount of knowledge and understanding with them to Buchanan, a port city where they helped to set up a treatment unit. Still, the devastating impact of the epidemic challenged them in ways they had not experienced before.
“With the backing of decades’ worth of medical knowledge crafted by scientists and health care workers internationally on the subject of Ebola, we are all of us still in training, trying to grasp the totality of our roles,” said Sadigh in a blog post reflecting on his time in Liberia. “For one,we are not only physicians and health care workers charged with the task of providing care to the sick, but we are public health officers who must preserve the health of the community.”
Tandoh also struggled with the gravity of the situation. “It was very difficult to see the sicker patients because there was nothing you could do,” Tandoh wrote in an email from Brussels, Belgium, where she stayed during a quarantine period after she left Liberia. “You knew they were going to die. As a surgical intensivist, I’m trained to place large IV lines, provide intubation and all kinds of medications to save a patient’s life. In this situation, you cannot offer any of those.”
Despite the many challenges, Tandoh and Sadigh left a lasting impact: The Ebola treatment unit they helped to set up had 151 national staff shortly after they left the country, and much more of the fundamental equipment necessary for treatment. Still, they have said they deserve no glory for their work. Sadigh credited those fighting the disease in their home countries while losing family members and living in poverty with the true hero status. “I admire the resiliency of the West Africans,” said Sadigh shortly after his return. “Despite being at the epicenter of Ebola, their life continues. I learned so much from that nation.”
Tandoh, a native Liberian, has been equally humble. “People are willing do what it takes to see their fellow human get better,” she said during a local television interview after her arrival back in Vermont.