For New York Doctor, Helping India Fight COVID-19 Is Personal

Dr. Ash Tewari, 59

Title: Chair of the Department of Urology, Mount Sinai Health System
Location: New York City

Tewari, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born and raised in India. He and other Mount Sinai doctors are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in India by organizing the shipping of 25 ventilators and 100 sleep apnea machines with kits to convert them to ventilators to hospitals throughout India via a chartered plane to Mumbai.

As told to Ruben Castaneda, as part of U.S. News & World Report’s “One Pandemic Question” series. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Why is it important for you to help India respond to its COVID-19 crisis?

For me, it’s personal. My mom is in India; uncles and cousins, they’re all there. Fortunately, most of them are vaccinated, because they are older. They are in the northern city of Kanpur.

Three weeks ago, I lost my best friend of more than four decades to COVID-19. His kids Facetimed me from India; they told me how poorly he was doing. His oxygen level on a pulsox ( pulse oximeter) was 65%; below 80% is serious. I told them to take him to the hospital right away. They carried him down three flights of stairs in a building with no elevator. The first hospital they took him to wouldn’t admit him. The second took him but had no ventilators. My best friend of 45 years died that night. I felt so helpless I couldn’t save him.

The equipment that we are sending to India won’t help thousands of people. I did the math on how many people died in India in one day this week. It was more than 3,400 people. That’s the equivalent of six full jumbo jets crashing.

In a way, the donations are symbolic, they’re a token.

Think about a nurse, a doctor or a technician who’s been on duty for two days straight in India. They need a little bit of recognition. When America does something for people in other countries, it’s valued. People in those countries know they’re not fighting by themselves, they know they are not alone.

[Read: COVID-19 — In Hard-Hit New York City, a Massive Team Effort at Mount Sinai.]

In New York, for the first few weeks of the pandemic, many people went to the their windows and applauded or banged pots and pans to show their appreciation for the health care workers who were risking their lives taking care of COVID-19 patients.

I hope other people will try to help India however they can. People rallied to help New York last year. Now is the time for us to pay it forward.

In April of 2020, I got COVID-19 and was hospitalized. My wife and daughter got it, too. I was helped by many people in the hospital where I was treated. I remember being in my room, seeing new nurses. I asked them where they were from. Some said, ‘Oh, I’m from California. I’m from Texas. I’m from Minnesota.’ They just came to New York City to help during that terrible time. Humans respond to a crisis.

India is very resilient. The medical professionals there are amazing, they are strong and motivated and are working very hard. I have a lot of respect for my medical colleagues there. I have faith in India, it will bounce back.

More from U.S. News

A Look at Hospitals, Health Care Workers Fighting the Coronavirus Pandemic

Fear, Courage, Grit: Meet More Than 50 ‘Hospital Heroes’ in Pictures

Photos: COVID-19 Vaccinations Around the World

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