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“Tell the girls I need help”, was all Dr. Raghuram Matta heard as he made his way through the aisles of a pharmacy not far from his home in suburban Detroit. He was there to pick up prescriptions for his father, for whom he is a designated caregiver. Dr. Matta was taking a break on this Saturday morning from his role as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Detroit VA Medical Center when he heard the plea from a man slumped over in a chair near the pharmacy counter. The pharmacy was offering doses of the Janssen vaccine and Dr. Matta kneeled and asked the man if he had received a shot. The man affirmed as his eyes rolled back and he became unresponsive. Dr. Matta checked and found no pulse.
As a physician, Dr. Matta is aware of the possible side effects of vaccines and suspected the man was having an allergic reaction to the vaccine. He immediately alerted pharmacy staff to locate an EpiPen to halt the reaction as he began chest compressions. A pharmacy tech arrived shortly and, under Dr. Matta’s tutelage, began to administer the EpiPen. It was her first time using the device. The man suddenly jerked and gasped for air. Dr. Matta stopped CPR when the tech confirmed a pulse was present and the gentleman slowly regained consciousness as an EMT arrived at the pharmacy.
Raghu, as he is known by many, is no stranger to vaccines. He has served as the Detroit VA’s medical team lead during the COVID-19 crisis and has overseen the vaccination of more than 36,000 people. His leadership of the COVID response has maintained effective clinical interventions, ensuring unparalleled care for more than 1,100 Veterans treated for COVID at Detroit VA. Moreover, Detroit VA answered the call to VA’s 4th Mission in April 2020, becoming one of the first VA medical centers to care for non-Veterans. With Dr. Matta as its champion, the Detroit VA expanded its ICU capacity, converting outpatient clinic space to inpatient units to allow the facility to receive and treat patients from the community’s beleaguered hospitals.
Dr. Matta continues to lead a highly successful team in the battle against America’s pandemic, all while maintaining his clinic privileges and a direct conduit to patients. He tirelessly campaigns for the COVID vaccine, sharing video testimonials on social media to encourage vaccine acceptance and he recruits colleagues to follow suit. To further expand access to the vaccine, he has led the deployment of community vaccination clinics in underserved communities throughout the Detroit-area.
The personification of a civil servant, Raghu humbly remembered the episode at the pharmacy. “I feel providence determined that our paths cross,” he said. “What a coincidence that a trained health professional walks into a store at the same moment a person is having a serious reaction? I am sure most health professionals would have reacted the same way as I did.”