Super SHEro - Maria Pane MD, '81

Maria Pane MD, MSDA Class of 1981, is a Neonatologist at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Maryland. Working in medicine for 25 years, Maria handles all neonatal emergencies - attending high-risk deliveries, prenatal consultations of expectant mothers, and care for critical premature babies as small as under a pound. She also cares for larger critical infants with a variety of neonatal disorders - mostly respiratory or infectious in nature – as well as some metabolic and congenital disorders, large and small for gestational age infants, post-op surgical babies and some cardiac patients. Maria is in charge of leading a large team to care for these babies and their families while also teaching students. At the start of a typical day, Maria examines all of the NICU babies and then leads rounds with the nurses, practitioners, and entire team including the parents. She makes the plans for the day with the team and then meets individually with families to review their infant(s) progress and discuss any parental concerns, as well as with a variety of consultants as needed. In between all of this, she attends high risk deliveries and performs high risk neonatal procedures. She also teaches medical students and advanced practitioner students. In addition to her work as a clinician, she has served for over a decade on the Hospital Credentials Committee, which she currently chairs. She is also the Vice Chief of the Medical Staff and the interim Chief of the Medical Staff. Of this incredibly critical and busy role, Maria proclaims, “I love my job.”

Today, amidst the COVID19 crisis, Maria works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit caring for premature and critically ill neonates and their families. “When the COVID-19 shelter in place was ordered, our hospital already had a plan in place and I had already picked up our PPE. I am fitted yearly. Providers come in one hour before their shifts to go through screening (symptom and temperature check) and then don hospital specific scrubs, N95 and a face shield. Every exam, every procedure, every delivery and every resuscitation is done with full gear. Healthy babies can stay with their parents, unlike the rest of the hospital where no visitors are allowed. In the NICU, only one screened parent may come at a time. Prior to this, parents and grandparents could visit as well as older siblings. My team is very family-focused, with a child life specialist and NICU-specific social worker who help me to communicate with families as needed via telemedicine. My hospital has a special negative pressure OR for c-sections for COVID19 positive patients or patients awaiting test results.”

So while Maria and her team, as well as their hospital, are well-prepared and meeting the challenges, it by no means is easy. “My team and I have become even more efficient at our work but it’s so hard to see families go through this. It’s very hard not to hug our families during difficult moments. Perhaps the most difficult part outside of the patient care is the decontamination process so I don’t take anything home to my family. I Lysol my shoes and undress from street clothes (scrubs come off at work) and then do a thorough wash and sanitation before greeting anyone. I come home and eat and sleep separately, and try to maintain social distancing to protect my family but sometimes that’s near impossible.” But despite the new protocols and the difficulties, Maria notes, “I went into healthcare to help others and to save lives,” and she continues to focus on the positives. “Our NICU patients stay the longest of any patient in the hospital, so we instituted a graduation process for them and that has lifted everyone’s spirits. We are also receiving lots of well wishes from the community cheering us on and I have been collecting homemade masks and caps for the team to wear in the common non-patient care areas of the hospital.”

Maria knows she is fortunate to have a job, but she shared, “It is very isolating. It’s difficult to communicate with the N95 masks and shields and takes extra time to prepare for work and to decontaminate before leaving the hospital and again at arrival home. Most hospital committee meetings are virtual and some activities where we also can greet fellow providers - like Grand Rounds - have been cancelled.” And when a compassionate hug is part of the care Maria wants to provide, COVID19 has made that impossible. “I had a set of extremely premature twins for whom we could only provide compassionate comfort care as they were not viable. Our team is wonderful whenever this rare event happens and we do our best to provide not only the best health care, but also the best social, emotional and pastoral support for families as well. These twins passed away shortly after the restrictions for COVID19 went into place and it was heartbreaking for my team and I not to be able to hug the parents in their grief. This is probably the hardest thing for us – communicating through the PPE.”

In the time she is away from the hospital, Maria combines her love of crafting with her feelings of gratitude. “I love to craft and it helps me relax. I have mostly handcraft and stamp homemade cards and have been sending thank you’s to all who are supporting our healthcare team.” Maria, we are all sending you the virtual hugs that we wish were real, and are so grateful for the expertise and care you deliver to the beautiful rays of hope and sunshine in your care. Your compassion shines through your PPE and we are grateful for your service.

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