Hometown Hero: Dr. Samer Fahmy

For Boca Regional’s Chief Medical Officer, a new job escalated into complete crisis management

Dr. Samer Fahmy assumed the role of chief medical officer at Boca Raton Regional Hospital (BRRH) three weeks before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Samer, who’s been with BRRH for almost six years, is double board certified in internal medicine and clinical informatics; he is also the associate clinical dean for academic affairs at Florida Atlantic University, working closely with FAU resident doctors at BRRH.

But the coronavirus was a whole new ballgame.

Fahmy’s role in the ensuing crisis included marshaling medical experts to help process the ever-changing science to design virus testing and safety and treatment protocols, from PPE and doctor-patient interaction to the convalescent plasma program for all of Baptist Heath. And then there were the hours of phone calls with families of COVID patients who were unable to see their loved ones during the hospital lockdown.

HOW HE RESPONDED TO THE CRISIS

We got hit hard. [One in five of COVID patients admitted to BRRH died from the disease.—Ed.] I didn’t have much of a ramp–up period. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of learning from colleagues who were experts in the field as well as guidance from the CDC. As we were doing it our information would change, the evidence we were working with would change, and we’d have to adjust on the fly—and we’re still doing that.

ON BEING SCARED

Every doctor and nurse and ancillary staff member in the hospital was scared—and rightfully so. And more than just scared for ourselves—scared for our families… Yes, there was definitely fear, some anxiety related to the unknown because there was a lot we didn’t know.

COVID-19 is not like anything we’ve ever dealt with as a health care system in my career. I know that HIV hit hard, but I was not a physician back then. In talking to those who did experience it, it was similar, but this was even more severe than what happened with HIV because of the mode of transmission—because you are able to transmit it to others without knowing that you have symptoms of it. It’s pretty frightening for everybody in society not knowing that the person walking next to you may be harboring an infection that can be detrimental to you or your loved one’s health.

ON MOVING FORWARD

I am more optimistic with the measures put into place like mask wearing—and mandatory mask wearing in Palm Beach County. Local governments stepped up and did the right thing aside from the state and federal levels not doing the right thing.

A return to normal is going to be challenging. As we see the numbers decline, complacency from the public—not sticking to our recommendations of wearing masks, not gathering in large groups, social distancing—that will be the biggest challenge we face as a nation. … There may not be a normal for many more months. When safe practices slacked off in the community, that’s when the surge came.

EXPERIENCES DURING THE CRISIS HE WILL NEVER FORGET

There have been so many. This has been such an emotional roller coaster since the beginning. One of the most moving moments was a patient who was in our ICU for more than a month on a ventilator and really struggling to survive. We were able to get him better, get him healthy and out of the hospital and home to his family. And the moving moment was when he came back to the hospital several weeks later and the look in his eyes knowing that the team he was meeting is the team that saved his life. And how thankful he was and his wife and his kids. Those are the moments that you live for as a doctor. That’s the fuel that keeps our team going.

The Hometown Hero series is a tribute to community citizens who have demonstrated exemplary service and leadership to the city of Boca Raton, and is in memory of John E. Shuff.


This story is from the November/December 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.