NYC Epidemiologist Battles COVID-19

Dr. Krystina Padkowsky Woods ’98 — an infectious disease physician, hospital epidemiologist, and medical director for Infection Prevention at Mount Sinai West — spent years learning how to treat infections like sepsis, malaria, hepatitis and HIV. But when the newest infectious disease and respiratory pathogen – COVID-19 – slammed her hospital in New York City this spring, it caught most in the medical field by surprise.

“This was so widespread and quick,” said Woods. “Once Italy experienced their outbreak, it became clear that we were likely next or that it had already been circulating among us, but we just weren’t aware of it yet.”

So, Woods and her Mount Sinai West colleagues sprang into action. In order to accommodate as many patients as possible within the hospital, they converted their surgical recovery unit into another COVID ICU, and many anesthesiologists stepped up and became ICU doctors nearly overnight.

Woods said her hospital has treated several hundred COVID-19 positive patients, while sadly losing many to the virus.

“As the hospital’s Epidemiologist, this was personally so difficult for me because we alone couldn’t stop the infection’s spread in the city, and so many people were getting sick,” said Woods, who also lost colleagues to the virus, including a nurse.

Despite the losses, she was able to find a few silver linings.

Woods describes one of her best days on the job as the day her hospital discharged one of their first patients with COVID-19 after a month and a half stay.

“This patient was visiting from Chile and had no family with him,” Woods said. “I comforted him and talked to him when he was admitted. On the day of his discharge, he said he remembered me when he first came in. It was amazing that simply relating to him on a human level stayed with him after all he’d been through.”

Seeing these success stories is why Woods has never regretted her career in medicine even despite the challenging number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and a virus that is always looking to propagate.

Growing up, Woods was a strong learner in the sciences and spent many weekends before going to ballet lessons, at Bayonne Hospital’s nurses’ station, where her father, a physician, rounded on his patients.

“Early on, I remember asking my father why there weren’t many female doctors,” said Woods, who admits this memory remained with her as she decided to become a physician.

As a student at Oak Knoll, Woods had strong female role models as teachers in the sciences, including Dr. Barbara Gadegbeku, who Woods said was an inspirational chemistry and astronomy teacher.

“My teachers always taught me by example that I had a voice,” said Woods. “I never felt that I couldn’t share my opinion.”

In fact, she advocated for patients living with social and economic hardships during her fellowship at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan.

“I learned to use my voice so that I could be an advocate for my patients who needed access to various services,” said Woods.

After finishing medical school, Woods’ interest in infectious diseases was ignited when she traveled to India, Southeast Asia and South America. There, she saw firsthand the need for treatments of diseases like malaria, dengue, various parasites, HIV, and the importance of vaccines.

To curb COVID-19, Woods said there is much to be learned from other countries, including Vietnam. Despite rampant poverty and poor sanitation in Vietnam, she said its citizens are adhering to the guidelines to keep the virus’s spread low.

To do her part in the U.S., Woods is passing along her medical knowledge to the next group of infectious disease physicians as assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“Teaching the fellows and residents incentivizes us all to keep up-to-date with the current information in the infectious disease field,” said Woods, who lives in Summit with her husband and two young sons. “I really enjoy being able to teach and to pass on knowledge and know that I’m contributing to the future of medical care.”


Stories from the Frontline is a signature Oak Knoll editorial feature that aims to highlight all of the hardworking alumnae/i of Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child who are out on the frontlines of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. These alumnae/i may be in the medical, law enforcement, and other emergency service fields. Do you know someone we should talk to? Email communications@oakknoll.org.

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