Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Eric Stem was honored Friday with a heroes parade for his month-long service in New York City treating patients stricken with COVID-19.
He had just wrapped up a surgery when he was surprised by a crowd of friends, colleagues, and family members waving American flags in the hallway of Summerville Medical Center’s ambulatory care center. They cheered for him and thanked him for volunteering to serve on the front lines of a global pandemic.
As a surgeon, Stem specializes in hip and knee repair at Lowcountry Orthopedics. He is also a Colonel in the US Air Force Reserve and commander of the 315th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Joint Base Charleston.
He was one of six reservists from Charleston to be stationed in New York City for more than three weeks treating patients infected with COVID-19. Stem is the first to return home. After a two week quarantine he returned to work.
Stem was not initially called to serve in one of the nation’s worst hot spots for the disease. Another doctor and reservist had been activated to go but has a heart condition so Stem volunteered to take his place.
“The Air Force mission is to fly planes, drop bombs and carry people around- this wasn't exactly the mission- but that is what was needed at the time,” Stem said. “It was pretty incredible how quickly things got ramped up to get everybody there to support this national emergency.”
He was sent to a hospital in the Queens borough to practice general medicine. He said he had plenty of personal protective equipment, enough food and stayed in a safe place. However, he said the uncertainty of the whole situation was unnerving.
“Lots of people were dying from a severe illness and the virus is everywhere in New York City,” Stem said. “Everyone is doing their best to stay healthy and to try not to come home with an unwanted souvenir from NYC.”
When he was no longer needed to help, Stem was released to return home. For two weeks he lived in his garage and kept distance from his wife and children. While in quarantine, he had picnics with his family outside every day.
As the nation slowly opens back up for business and adjusts to a new normal, Stem advises caution.
“Be safe; maintain social distancing, wash your hands,” Stem said. “I think wearing a mask is a very appropriate thing to do. There are people that are symptomatic- they carry the virus- that is how it spreads. “If you’re feeling OK, it does not mean you may not be infecting somebody.”