Run Towards The Fire: An OB-GYN’s story of caring for patients and the homeless during COVID-19

Natalia Echeverri, MD, FACOG is an OB-GYN located in Miami, FL. Her commitment and passion for helping others goes beyond women’s health. When she is not in her office helping patients, she can be found spending quality time with her husband and two sons.

At ViaCord, we know just how special the OB-GYNs we work with are.  As busy as their days can be, from back to back appointments to delivering babies during all hours of the day, they always make time to help educate families about their option to bank their newborns’ stem cells. Why? Because they care. They care for their families as if they were their own.

Today, we’re joined by one those special OB-GYNs, Natalia Echeverri, MD, FACOG. Her commitment and passion for caring for others during COVID-19 extends beyond the walls of her Miami, FL OB-GYN practice, to meet the needs of some of Miami’s most undeserved neighborhoods.

Dr. Echeverri shares her story below…

During a crisis there is always a group of people who “run towards the fire.” We identify a need and try to find a way to meet it. COVID-19 is a perfect example of how we, as a community, ran towards the fire in different but all valuable ways. 

The healthcare sector was affected tremendously. The practice of medicine has hardly changed in decades. Yes, innovation has allowed us to expand our practice but in the end we essentially work through touch, physical exams, and human interaction. We had to act quickly, incorporating telemedicine into our daily routine, figure out new ways to examine our patients thoroughly to offer them excellent medical care without exposing them to our office setting. 

In our obstetrics practice, telemedicine both pushed us into the future and  challenged us to return to our roots, the way we used to practice medicine before the technology gave us fetal dopplers and ultrasound machines. We had our patients start kick counts, taught them how to take their own blood pressure, and educated them on warning signs of third trimester complications. We had to slow down and not only offer medical care but also words of comfort to our anxious patients. The physician-patient relationship was strengthened. 

Of course, we still had to bring our high risk patients into the office. Our office incorporated added precautions to ensure safety; social distancing, universal mask usage, partners calling into the appointment to decrease the amount of people coming into the office setting. We all adjusted to our new reality. 

“Our office felt early on that meeting only our patients’ needs was not enough. A pandemic affects people universally and we knew, deep inside, that we needed to run towards the fire.”

We identified the need for universal mask usage and the shortage of supply even before the CDC recommended it. In our down time, we started making homemade cloth masks for our patients, their families, and essential workers we would encounter, and not just those in healthcare. Dr. Siman, one of the partners at our practice, identified the need for baby wipes and diapers for families suffering through economic challenges.  We became a drop off center for Miami Diaper Bank and encouraged our patients to help us with our drive. 

MIAMI, FLORIDA – APRIL 17: Dr. Natalia Echeverri, uses a swab to
gather a sample to test for COVID-19. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

When shelter in place orders and universal mask usage was set for our county, I joined the non-profit organizations led by Dr. Armen Henderson, Dade County Street Response and Dream Defenders, to meet the needs of the homeless in some of Miami’s most underserved neighborhoods. We began distributing tents, food, water, homemade masks, and COVID testing our vulnerable population.

The project has grown, but the needs have outpaced it. The nonprofits have now set up showers and bathroom facilities in an Overtown church parking lot. My office and home have become a drop off point for clothing, towels, hygiene products, food and water. The makeshift center is open 7 days a week, run by volunteers. Every night my husband and I pick up donations, sort clothing, and sew cloth masks. Fridays we meet at noon to triage, distribute supplies, and COVID test. 

We are adjusting to our new reality. We continue practicing medicine but we also choose to serve our community in every way we can. We must continue running towards the fire. COVID has brought a lot of angst, but it also has brought us together- and that is what we will remember about 2020.

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