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San Diego Surgeon Lends a Lifesaving Hand

A Scripps trauma surgeon helps an overwhelmed New York hospital care for COVID patients

Trauma surgeon Matthew Martin, MD traveled to New York to help care for the critically ill COVID-19 patients at a hospital in the Bronx.

A Scripps trauma surgeon helps an overwhelmed New York hospital care for COVID patients

When Scripps Mercy Hospital trauma surgeon Matthew Martin, MD, heard that Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx was being inundated with COVID-19 patients, he knew what he had to do. The retired Army trauma and critical care surgeon hopped a flight to New York and spent the next two weeks caring for the sickest of the sick in the hospital’s ICU.


“It was very clear that they were desperately in need of help,” he says. “They had been massively overrun and were struggling to keep up with the patients, the disease.”

Providing intensive care for critically ill COVID patients

Providing intensive care for critically ill COVID patients

Dr. Martin and the Jacobi staff were forced to improvise and turn every available inch into bed space to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. Dr. Martin tended to patients in the ICU, many of whom were already on a ventilator and suffering kidney failure, and treated others who were struggling to breathe, hoping they wouldn’t end up the same way — or worse. 


“At that point, almost every patient in the hospital was a COVID-19 patient,” he says.

From military battlegrounds to a coronavirus war zone

From military battlegrounds to a coronavirus war zone

In addition to the grueling hours he worked and the suffering and isolation he regularly witnessed, Dr. Martin and Jacobi’s health care workers also faced shortages of N95 masks, though he notes that the hospital system Jacobi is part of did a relatively good job keeping up with demand for other protective gear. 


Dr. Martin was also concerned for his own safety — especially since many of the patients he treated were health care workers themselves — a feeling that was all too familiar from his 24 years in the Army before joining the Scripps team.


“I had five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was kind of similar to that,” he says. “There’s always, in the back of your mind, a baseline concern.”

Helping people avoid or overcome COVID-19

Helping people avoid or overcome COVID-19

Dr. Martin reiterated that there is no vaccine for the coronavirus and no cure for COVID-19, and while San Diego is a continent away from the Bronx, “all it takes is one big wave” and the only effective treatment is prevention. Keep wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing your hands and being mindful of those who are at high risk of complications. 


Despite all the challenges there, Dr. Martin remembers his time at Jacobi fondly and says it was a great experience. Seeing patients recover and walk out of the hospital kept him and his colleagues going. 


“You’re with a great team,” he says, “and everybody’s focused on one thing: taking care of patients.”

San Diego Health August 2020 Issue

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.