Reem Sheikh, D.P.M.’12, well remembers the early days of the pandemic. As a podiatric surgeon at New York Metropolitan, Lincoln and Harlem hospitals and a surgery faculty member at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, she experienced firsthand how shortages of life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) impacted those working on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This situation is a blessing because we have the opportunity to do something,” she recalled of the difficulties faced during the height of the pandemic. “But it’s also challenging because it’s difficult physically, emotionally and mentally. Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is not easy by any means. We’re used to chaos, but we’re used to controlled chaos. This is unknown territory.”
During the initial weeks of the pandemic, Sheikh witnessed the number of COVID-19 cases rapidly increase from the teens to the hundreds of thousands. As she watched her residents and colleagues keep pace with the growing pandemic, she put out a call for help on social media.
“I reached out to my mommy group on Facebook, and I posted a plea for myself and my residents,” she said. “Within hours, a local school donated 40 pairs of goggles, snacks and another volunteer sent 400 masks. Then I posted a thank-you video and it sort of went viral.”
CBS News saw Sheikh’s message and conducted an interview, which caught the attention of even more people who wanted to contribute. To manage the increase of goodwill, she partnered with four members from her Facebook group who continued fundraising, vetting PPE vendors and managing public relations. Since her initial request, Sheikh received over $18,000 to order PPE for her surgical residents, colleagues and staff in various hospital departments.
“People are homebound, but they want to help those fighting on the front lines,” she said. “I’m so humbled by the response we received. It really has been a tremendous effort and would not have been possible without the support of my mom volunteers. Moms get things done.”
Sheikh didn’t always know she wanted to pursue a career in surgery and podiatry. Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, she moved to St. Mary’s, AK, at the age of 13. Health care disparities she noticed in rural Alaska led to her initial discovery of podiatry in high school. After graduating at the age of 15, she proceeded to the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she continued to be heavily involved in student government, the honors program, undergraduate research and activism. Last October, the university honored her with an Alumni Emerging Leader Award.
“If an opportunity comes your way, don’t hesitate to step up and speak up because we are all in this together,” she said. “At the end of the day, all credit goes to my son who is two and a half. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be on these mommy groups and this campaign would not have been this grand. Because what do moms do? They talk to each other to figure stuff out.”
Sheikh continued to coordinate the outpouring of thousands of PPE donations — no longer just to the city’s medical facilities, but to schools, religious facilities and minority communities across the country and at home in Alaska.
Matt Jardin is a communications specialist in the University of Alaska Anchorage advancement office. This article appeared on the UAA website on Sept. 28 and is excerpted with permission.