Tag Archives: Hospital for Special Surgery

Caroline Accardi: A COVID Nurse’s Story

Caroline Accardi’s father Frank is an ophthalmologist. At the start of his career he saw physicians refusing to treat HIV patients, because they feared the deadly disease.

“Doctors take an oath to help everyone,” he told his daughter.

That made a big impression on her. Her mother Ellen was a role model too. A cardiac ICU nurse by training, she now sells heart defibrillators and teaches CPR.

Caroline’s younger brother Andrew battled neuroblastoma for 15 years. She helped care for him. When he died in 2013 — just 20 years old — her goal of serving in the medical profession was cemented.

Caroline Accardi, in her scrubs.

After graduating from Staples High School in 2010 and James Madison University 4 years later, Caroline earned a nursing degree. Since 2016 she’s been part of the post-anesthetic care unit at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery.

She’s in the recovery room with patients after hip and knee replacements, and spinal surgery. When Governor Cuomo halted all non-essential medical procedures in mid-March, her hospital dropped from 60 to 80 cases a day, to 5 to 15. (Those were emergencies, like broken hips.)

For 2 weeks, Caroline had little to do. She saw so many other nurses doing so much. “It was such a helpless feeling,” she recalls.

The Hospital for Special Surgery is connected by a bridge to New York Presbyterian. When that facility was flooded with coronavirus patients, those who were not infected were moved to Caroline’s hospital. But so many people got sick, the Hospital for Special Surgery soon took them too.

Her hospital turned 9 operating rooms into makeshift ICUs. The strategy was to contain the virus in those special units.

Caroline Accardi at work.

Quickly, she says, “we went from taking care of healthy, recovering patients, to treating very, very sick people.”

She relied on training from nursing school she had not had to use before. “The tasks were the same, but the critical thinking was different,” she explains. “My brain had to make a total shift in how I looked at things.”

The Hospital for Special Surgery treated COVID patients throughout April. “We were there for hours at a time,” Caroline says. “The teamwork was incredible.”

As a private hospital, they were fortunate to have plenty of PPE on hand. Caroline work a gown over her scrubs; an N95 mask, with a regular mask over that; 2 hairnets; an enormous face shield, and 2 pairs of gloves. She felt “very protected.”

Despite all her PPE, Caroline Accardi added a personal touch.

Yet the days were long, and physically and emotionally draining. At one point there were 20 patients in ICU. At least one or two died every day.

“People were on ventilators so much longer than usual,” Caroline says. “And no families could visit. We had to explain over the phone how sick their loved ones were. They had to make life-or-death decisions without being there.

“As nurses, we want people to die with dignity. Families had to say goodbye to people they knew would die alone.”

Many patients had underlying health conditions. Some did not. And some were in their 30s and 40s.

When the last COVID patient left on April 30, Caroline saw “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Neighboring hospitals too were less overwhelmed.

“What everyone is doing — all the social distancing and following guidelines — is working,” she notes.

Still, elective surgeries will not be scheduled until everyone feels safe.

The Hospital for Special Surgery has taken care of its patients — and staff. Personnel received 2 bonuses, and can take days off with 80% pay if there are no cases.

Of course, it will take a long time to return to whatever the new “normal” is.

But when we’re there, Caroline Accardi will be there doing exactly what she always dreamed of doing, and has always done: helping others.

Crutches 4 Kids: Westporters’ Gift To The World

How long have those crutches sat in your attic?

If you’re like most Westporters Americans:  quite a while.

We sprain an ankle or break a leg.  We use crutches, then get better.  But we can’t be bothered to recycle them, or even throw them out.  We keep them, for “whenever.”  It’s the way we roll.

Billions of people in the Third World — many of them kids — don’t have crutches.  But they need them a lot worse than we do.

In 2009, Westport natives Ken and Beth Shubin Stein, and Beth’s husband Chris Ahmad, did something about this paradox most of us never think about.  They formed Crutches 4 Kids.

Since their 1st event — a hugely successful crutch collection drive at Bedford Middle School — they’ve delivered crutches to needy youngsters around the globe.  That simple gift has transformed thousands of lives.

Tonight the trio will be honored by the New York Yankees.  In a pre-game, on-field ceremony, Ken, Beth and Chris will accept a Starter Athletics award for their efforts.

More importantly, they’ll get a nice check to continue their vital work.

The Crutches 4 Kids guys (and gal) come by their passion naturally.

Ken and Beth — twins who graduated from Staples in 1987 — come from a medical family.  Their father is a cardiologist, their mother a fertility specialist.  The extended Shubin Stein family has long believed in medical charity — and acted on their beliefs.

Beth is an attending orthopedic surgeon, specializing in sports surgery, at the world-renowned Hospital for Special Surgery.  She’s a graduate of Columbia Medical School.

Ken Shubin Stein

Ken graduated from Albert Einstein Medical School.  He’s now a founder and managing member of Spencer Capital, a value investing firm.

Beth’s husband Chris — a former Columbia soccer player — is an attending orthopedic surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital.  He’s also the Yankees’ head team physician.

Ken has a home near Compo Beach.  Beth and Chris spend their summers here — and will soon move to Westport full time.

But all 3 know that life in Westport is not the real world.

“There are 3 huge groups that need crutches,” Ken says.

“Over a billion people live in areas so poor, like Africa and central India, that there’s no infrastructure for access to even basic medical care.

“There are places of violence, like Sierra Leone and southeast Asia, where kids are collateral damage.

“And there are natural disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti or tsunamis, where there’s a sudden need.”

Many medical problems — like getting medicine to AIDS patients — are almost impossible to solve.

Collecting and distributing crutches is not like that.

Beth Shubin Stein

“There are no barriers,” Ken says.  “There’s a massive supply of crutches over here, and a massive demand over there.  We hook them both up.  It’s very direct, and very impactful.”

Columbia and the Hospital for Special Surgery have been very supportive of Crutches 4 Kids.  But that early boost from Bedford — when guidance counselor Lisa Weitzman helped spearhead an enormous drive — showed the organization’s founders that their simple idea really could work.  More than a dozen drives, at other schools, have followed.

“This is so cool, for 3 reasons,” Ken explains.

“First, we teach kids about social service.  Whether it’s wealthy Westport or low-income Stamford, any American kid can help collect crutches — and help other kids around the world.  That’s a fantastic education.

“Second, we recycle.

“Third — and most importantly — we give the gift of mobility.  We help kids walk.

Chris Ahmad

“Doctors who worked in Haiti told me about kids who had legs amputated — Civil War-type medicine — because they had no other equipment.  There was no pain medicine; kids sat on the floor with bloody stumps.  Doctors I know were horrified and traumatized.  Giving crutches to kids like that is the least we can do.”

Being honored by the Yankees for their work is nice, Ken says.

But he cares more about the check.

“We’re on a shoestring budget.  Every dollar is important, to help us attract more donations and volunteers.”

And help clean out more attics, of more forgotten, unused crutches.

(Click here for more information about Crutches 4 Kids.)