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EHS Honors Alumni on the Covid-19 Front Lines

When Dr. Jürgen Taylor ’81 was growing up, he spent a great deal of time with his grandparents on their 600 acres of land in North Carolina. His grandmother, who lived to be 94 years old, practiced holistic medicine and took care of him when he got sick. She once helped him through a bad case of pneumonia and even steered an aunt with polio back to health. 

“I saw her practice her craft, helped her harvest tree leaves she needed for medicine,” Taylor says.

Today, Taylor is a veteran of more than 30 years in emergency-room medicine who is carrying on the family’s tradition of service through healing. During his career, he has witnessed many devastating viruses, including AIDS, SARS, and Ebola. This past year, he battled Covid-19, a disease that has tested the physical and mental limits of medical and healthcare professionals worldwide as they put their lives on the line to save others.

Dozens of other EHS alumni have been working to protect their communities from Covid-19, working as nurses, doctors, researchers, technicians, and other critical roles. The Episcopal community expresses profound gratitude to these alumni and honors their courage and dedication. In May, Taylor accepted the School’s 2021 Allen C. Phillips Integrity in Action award on behalf of all our graduates in healthcare who have battled Covid-19. 

See this page on our website for more information about the award as well as profiles of some of these alumni. Also, if you know of other EHS graduates in the healthcare field who have been on the Covid-19 front lines, please tell us about them through this form. We plan to honor all these alumni in a way that future generations of Episcopal students will know of work, dedication, and sacrifice. 

As part of the Integrity in Action program, Taylor delivered a talk to students about his career and the challenges of Covid-19. He is a graduate of Duke University, where he majored in chemistry, and the Brody School of Medicine at Eastern Carolina University. Taylor completed his residency in emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He also served as a U.S. Army physician stationed in Germany and Georgia.

The Integrity in Action lecture and award were created collaboratively by former Headmaster Rob Hershey, John Burress ’54, John Walker ’79, and Ed Walker ’85 to recognize and honor former EHS faculty member Allen C. Phillips, whose life epitomizes the highest ideals of honor and integrity, which are at the core of Episcopal High School’s values. Phillips was a longtime, distinguished faculty member whose devotion to character, integrity, and sacrifice is legendary at Episcopal. 

Here are excerpts from an interview with Taylor before his talk with students. 

How EHS led him to study chemistry and medicine
I was on the High List pretty much my entire time at Episcopal, but for some odd reason, honors chemistry and I did not get along. I got a D plus in the third quarter of my senior year, which by the rules prevented me from doing the May program. Mr. Shelor could have given me a C minus, and I could have done the program, but he recognized that I was mailing it in that third quarter. He made me learn the chemistry. Ironically, I went on to major in chemistry at Duke. If Mr. Shelor had gone easy on me, who knows where my life would have gone?
 
How an injury during a pickup basketball game led him to emergency medicine
I'm having the game of my life. I did this amazing crossover, but as I stepped one way, my back foot planted on the floor, which was like a carpet. My whole ankle rolled and touched the floor. I went down — pop!

At the emergency room at the hospital, this doctor comes in, and he's got all of this energy; he’s very personable: “Hey, you got a broken ankle. We’re going to put you in a cast and you’re going to follow up with an orthopedist.” I didn’t know anything about emergency medicine, at the time but it was clear he had an exciting job and handled lots of different things. I was hooked.
 
On preparations for the Covid-19 patients
We established a negative pressure room, and when we used a device, a hood, when we intubated patients so that we wouldn’t be sprayed with their droplets. We also talked to patients using iPads so we didn’t have to go into their rooms more than necessary.

On his first Covid-19 case
I remember my first serious patient. At this point, you knew that when you intubate someone, they weren’t likely going to live. So it was like: This is the last time I'm going to see this patient. This is probably the last time he's going to talk. We would admit them to the ICU, and you would never hear of them again. There was a lot of anxiety around that.

On protective gear
I’m double-masked. I wear the N95 and the surgical mask. Over the course of the weeks and months, a lot of the staff became fatigued to the point they made themselves believe, “I've been around Covid so much; I’m not going to get it.” And so they're not wearing their mask as diligently as they should, they’re not wearing that N95. But I’m still wearing the masks. Is there a poster child for wearing mask and PPE? I'm that guy.

On the vaccine
Some of my colleagues got Covid, but fortunately they recovered, though some of them have the residual effect of feeling weak and short of breath. Even then, some refused to get the vaccine. I was one of the first to get the vaccine when it became available. I said, “That's going to help me with Covid? Give it to me.”

On the pandemic’s end
I'm optimistic that we will get through this. I don't know when, but we will get to the other side. People finally will get on board and understand that we can control the narrative by doing our part. When you're in the military, people thank you for your service. When people get their vaccine, I thank them for their service, for doing their part to help society.
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