Pediatric Intensive Care Physician Treats Inflammatory Syndromes In Children
At 34 weeks pregnant with her third child, Dr. Susan Schmidt Gomes ’01 felt guilty when she wasn’t able to help treat COVID-19 patients in New York City.
Before becoming a pediatric intensive care physician at St. Christopher’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Gomes spent years in medical school learning how to treat ARDS — Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome – one of the main complications associated with COVID-19.
“I’m trained to care for this pathology that we’re seeing in all of these adult COVID-19 patients,” said Gomes.
“This is the bread and butter of what I do on a daily basis,” she said. “Since I received my specialty training in intensive care, at the beginning of the pandemic I felt tremendous guilt for not being able to help these patients.”
But St. Christopher’s Hospital needed her. Here, Gomes and her colleagues in the pediatric intensive care unit typically treat children with respiratory failure, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and flu. Gomes said because St. Christopher’s treats a high percentage of North Philadelphia’s underprivileged and poor population, they also treat children who’ve experienced trauma including gang-related gunshot wounds as well as child abuse cases.
Since the pandemic spread, Gomes has treated about a dozen children with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome with the COVID-19 infection. Her hospital has a plan if needed to also accept patients up to age 30 if they need to accommodate another surge of the virus.
“We certainly haven’t seen the last of COVID-19-related cases among children,” said Gomes.
In fact, Gomes’s unit is currently seeing a slow rise of children exhibiting post-COVID inflammatory syndromes – like those in New York City. Gomes said these are pediatric patients who have had a known exposure to COVID-19, tested positive for the virus or have had antibodies to it.
“Clinically, these children may look OK, but their conditions can change on a dime and worsen very quickly,” she said.
While Gomes and her unit remain vigilant that there are children who can deteriorate quickly with this, the patients they have seen with this have indeed recovered. “I think we will be seeing more of these cases and right now we don’t know what the mortality will be in the end.”
Yet through all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Gomes remains strong and empowered.
“My own working mother, who was a trailblazer, showed me it’s possible to be a doctor, wife and a good mother,” said Gomes, whose parents and two sisters – Kathyrn Schmidt Hudson ’99 and Rita Schmidt Butler ’04 – are all physicians.
Oak Knoll also empowered Gomes to achieve success through founder Cornelia Connelly’s maxim, “Actions, not words.”
“I have felt this message at my core in my job whether I was the shoulder parents cried on when their child died or whether we cried happy tears together as their child recovered. It’s been a huge honor and has all been worth it in the end,” Gomes said.
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 email@example.com.