The United States’ supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) is badly depleted, but thanks to TC’s Education for Persistence and Innovation Center (EPIC), the picture is slightly brighter at three major New York City medical centers.
Since January, EPIC — directed by Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, Professor of Cognitive Studies, at TC — has been arranging transport of masks, protective outfits and goggles between China and the U.S. At first, when the pandemic was raging in China and barely noticeable in the U.S., Lin-Siegler and EPIC staff members Guoming Xue, Daoquan Li, Scott Lu and Mirabelle Du worked together to send protective gear from Manhattan to China. More recently, as the pandemic has worsened here, Lin-Siegler has received the same types of protective gear from China and distributed it to hospitals in Manhattan.
To date, EPIC, with the logistical support of Teachers College and aided by the College’s offices of Public Safety and Facilities, has brought a total of 15,250 N95 masks, 11,500 surgical masks, more than 480 biomedical protection uniforms and 410 goggles to NYU’s Bellevue Hospital Center, Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Columbia University Medical Center, as well as St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Connecticut. EPIC also arranged for the delivery of a Yuwell BreathCare PAP machine, donated by Xin Zhou Co-Founder & Chairman of E-House China Holding Limited, to Columbia University Medical Center. While the device is not an actual ventilator, recent guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration permit the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), auto-CPAP, and bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP or BPAP) machines, which are typically employed to treat sleep apnea, to support COVID-19 patients experiencing breathing problems as long as the patient is appropriately monitored.
“The need here is so great, and China is the major manufacturer for the personal protective equipment needed by the world. The people in our two countries really want to help each other and are doing so on many levels.”
— Xiaodong Lin-Siegler
“Conversations with students, relatives and colleagues in China helped me understand in early January how bad the epidemic was in China and how bad it was sure to become in the U.S.,” says Lin-Siegler. “One of EPIC’s students is from Wuhan, and her descriptions were especially moving. At that time, we helped China by sending three shipments of equipment. But now the need here is so great, and China is the major manufacturer for the PPE needed by the world. The people in our two countries really want to help each other and are doing so on many levels.”
[Read a recent New York Times story on the work of Chinese Americans to procure medical supplies for health workers in this country.]
Stephanie Rowley, TC’s Provost, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, praised Lin-Siegler for her efforts.
“Xiaodong has managed the process of distributing the equipment to various hospitals,” Rowley said. “Her selflessness is amazing. She particularly wanted to make sure hospitals serving low-income patients were getting materials they needed. She was heartbroken over the suffering and loss of medical professionals, and the loss of life in general.”
Lin-Siegler, who recalls coming to the United States after China’s Cultural Revolution “with nothing but $60 and the clothes and a blanket in my suitcase,” says she is motivated by “gratitude to folks who supported me in my education and growth” and by “the need to give back.”
In arranging the equipment shipments, Lin-Siegler has drawn on a network of contacts in both the United States and China, including members of the EPIC board and the center’s partners. Key players have included Xin Zhou, who is also an Executive Advisory Board member of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania; Justin Chen, Vice President of Alibaba Group Holding Limited, China’s largest e-commerce business; Jiancheng Zhou, founder, Meters/Bonwe, Hong Kong; Lin Hao, Weiming Education Inc; ZhengRon Huang, the CEO of Perfect World North America Corporation, and Wenli Huang, Chief Administrator, E-House China Holding Limited and close friends and family relatives in China.
One of the most recent shipments occurred only because Xin Zhou, the Wharton trustee, reacted to the crisis by taking immediate action to get equipment to New York City.
Much of the protective equipment was delivered to TC, where public safety and facilities staff received and unloaded it. The rest was delivered to Lin-Siegler’s home. There, Michael C. Brabeck, a semi-retired NYU Langone physician who was returning to work on the front lines against the virus, picked it up in his car and delivered it to Bellevue Hospital.
“I am personally grateful for the protection that the equipment gives me, and collectively grateful for the protection of my colleagues,” Brabeck wrote in an email. “This is a war against a deadly virus, and medical professionals cannot fight it successfully without the right equipment and protective gear. Thank you, Xiaodong and Bob, and all who made this donation to Bellevue Hospital possible.”
Mike Janjigian, Associate Chief of Medicine at Bellevue, told Lin-Siegler in an email that the shipments will “help our staff stay safe and continue to care for our city's patients,” adding “your generosity is deeply appreciated by Bellevue hospital community!”
“This is a war against a deadly virus, and medical professionals cannot fight it successfully without the right equipment and protective gear. Thank you, Xiaodong and Bob, and all who made this donation to Bellevue Hospital possible.”
— Mike Brabeck, NYU Langone physician
JoAnne Williams, TC’s Vice President for Finance and Administration, adds that Lin-Siegler’s generosity has “extended to all the TC facilities and public safety personnel who risk their lives and those of their loved ones by coming to work every day in order that our resident students can be cared for properly.
“Through it all, I've had the privilege of getting to know Xiaodong better as a human being,” Williams says. “She is a force of nature, and her commitment to giving back to the country that has given her so much is beyond admirable. She is a kind, strong and highly determined person with a huge heart that is filled with compassion.”
And there have been still other expressions of gratitude, such as when Lin-Siegler personally shipped protection equipment to the CEO of Montefiore Medical Center and physicians in charge at Columbia Medical Center’s emergency room through a local FedEx office. After seeing that these shipments were for the front-line doctors and nurses, the FedEx Office manager, Leo Meagher, paid the FedEx shipment from his own pocket.
“He said, ‘This is my contribution to support the front-line medical professionals — please accept it,’” Lin-Siegler says.
She adds that in recent days, Harold Nilsson, a physician who is the father of one of her students from Hawaii, has made contributions to support EPIC efforts as well.
Lin-Siegler also praised Arnold Advincula, Levine Family Professor of Women’s Health and Vice-Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, for his role in ensuring that supplies reached Columbia University Medical Center. “We contacted Arnold, and he immediately said: ‘Just tell me where the PPE are and I will be there!’ He picked PPE from TC himself, drove to the hospital, and distributed it to the front line medical professionals that very night, and he also distributed PPE to at least three different divisions or units within CU hospital. We also dropped off or sent various other PPE at his apartment, which he then drove to CU. He has been accessible, warm, gracious and devoted!”
“The wisdom I’ve gained from this experience is that when you do good things for others, you encounter a lot more kindness, generosity and motivation to move that kindness forward,” she adds. “America has so many wonderful and kind people! Even though the virus made the sky dark, people’s kind souls and generosity replaced the darkness.”
“The wisdom I’ve gained from this experience is that when you do good things for others, you encounter a lot more kindness, generosity and motivation to move that kindness forward.”
— Xiaodong Lin-Siegler
For Lin-Siegler, the cooperation from so many players stands as a model for how people everywhere should be approaching the crisis right now.
“Human life should not have any borders — we should all do what we can, and we cannot stand idly by while medical professionals are risking their lives” she said. “Or as Jack Ma, former CEO of Alibaba Group puts it, ‘We’re all in a forest that caught fire, and no one will get out of here safe unless we all help each other.’ That’s the EPIC spirit, as well. One of the donors to EPIC, the late Mr. Yu Panglin, gave away his entire $1.2 billion fortune — but you don’t have to be rich to be philanthropic and help mobilize resources. It’s in your heart.”
— Joe Levine