"Heroes & Helpers" recognizes a person or team, among Tulane’s students, faculty, staff and alumni, engaged in extraordinary efforts on behalf of others in the battle against the major health crisis of our time.
Michael Antoine is passionate about helping others, and he has been doing just that for more than 18 years as part of the public safety team for the city of New Orleans. But never did he imagine having a year like this one. Sandwiched between Mardi Gras and the June 1 start of hurricane season – two of the busiest, most hectic times of year – was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which hit New Orleans especially hard.
Tulane Emergency Medical Service (TEMS)
They came to Tulane University from an array of backgrounds and interests, forming a family of sorts through their love of helping others. But it wasn’t their dorm floors, club memberships or study groups that led to that close-knit bond. As they were navigating their way through freshman year, some wondering if they would ever fit into college life, they heard about a group called TEMS — Tulane Emergency Medical Service — and knew they had found the group that would change their lives.
As graduating seniors, Ross Berlin, Matthew Wu and Max Steitz never imagined they would be spending the final months of their Tulane experience in isolation, completing coursework away from the campus they have called home for the past four years.
As a group, Drs. Robert F. Garry Jr., Xiao-Ming Yin and Di Tian, are recognized as Heroes and Helpers for their swift, innovative and decisive actions setting up COVID-19 testing at Tulane University School of Medicine. By April 1, they repurposed a research laboratory to process Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, where results can be processed within a day. PCR tests are identical to those used by the Centers for Disease Control. Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Garry facilitated the test in collaboration with Professor Yin and Associate Professor Tian of the Department of Pathology, which has validated and is administering the test in a lab certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). A CLIA-certified lab ensures quality lab testing. The testing being done at the medical school saves time from having to ship samples to the state lab in Baton Rouge, where because of demand, results can take days, rather than hours, to obtain. The faster testing allows for better patient care and more effective clinical treatment and intervention.
Guido Salvatierra, director of sustainable services, is recognized as a Heroes and Helpers honoree. Salvatierra heroically led his team at Tulane Facilities Services to facilitate a smooth and seamless move-out of students from residence halls as the university abruptly began online instruction and asked students to move home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most students left in a hurry, leaving behind some belongings and trash. Salvatierra’s team effectively and efficiently cleared the residence halls so that the small number of students who did elect to stay on campus would have a safe and clean environment in which to live. Even before this crisis, the Office of Housing and Residential Life has relied on Salvatierra as a huge part of its operation to provide student accommodations that are conducive to living harmoniously and learning productively. Salvatierra stepped up, once again, to the challenge.
Isaac Hoeschen, a School of Liberal Arts student, is a Heroes and Helpers honoree, who returned home to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when Tulane students temporarily transitioned to online classes to stop the spread of the coronavirus. To help out in the crisis, Hoeschen researched a design for making medical face shields. He ordered enough materials to make 1,000 face shields and, with the help of a friend, found a local machine shop to die-cut the shields. Initially, he put together kits for friends in the neighborhood to assemble. He then contacted hospitals about purchasing the face shields at cost. In less than a week, he had 725 face shields to sell to Froedtert Hospital of the Medical College of Wisconsin. The hospital was so pleased that they asked if Hoeschen could produce 1,000 shields a day. Hoeschen connected the hospital with the machine shop. As a result, the shop has brought back all its employees, returning to full staff, and is now manufacturing face shields of the same design that Hoeschen produced with his friends and neighbors.
Angela Birnbaum, director of Tulane’s Office of Biosafety, is the first Heroes and Helpers honoree. Birnbaum has worked tirelessly to help ensure the safety of medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients. She has developed a process to decontaminate critically needed N95 and other protective masks so that they can be reused by frontline doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. She has also used her expertise to secure the support of a nonprofit company to provide disinfected personal protective equipment for frontline heroes working in both the New Orleans hospital system and throughout Louisiana. Before the current crisis, Birnbaum had established an exemplary biosafety program at the Tulane National Primate Research Center that is a national model and that positioned the center to quickly step up to become one of the nation’s leaders in seeking to develop a vaccine, tests and treatments for COVID-19. With knowledge, dedication and commitment, Birnbaum is an indispensable asset, working far above and beyond the scope of normal job duties to protect and save lives during this pandemic.