Hero of the Day: New York-born doc travels 3,000 miles to help his home state

From 3,000 miles away, Michael Peters was glued to the screen, watching helplessly as his home state was slammed by the coronavirus. 

“One or two days was eternity when this was happening,” the New York native and pulmonary critical care doctor, now based in San Francisco, told The Post, his voice breaking.

Peters, who grew up in upstate Somers and went to medical school on Long Island, was desperate to help and started pushing the leadership at the University of California-San Francisco where he works to let him come to New York and join the fight. 

Finally, on April 11, he arrived and joined the front lines. 

“To say they’ve been overstretched is the biggest understatement there is,” said Peters, 39, last week after four grueling shifts at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. 

“It’s really a war zone.”

But, “this is my job,” he said. 

“The classic saying is when everyone else is running away from the room, we’re running towards the room. It’s just the way we’re programmed. 

“And I know that there are doctors in New York who would do the same for us,” he said.  

Despite being a critical care doctor, Peters couldn’t have anticipated the tragedy that COVID-19 would bring. 

“These are relatively healthy people who are the sickest people I’ve ever taken care of,” said Peters, who’s been doing critical care for a decade. 

“It’s a really horrible disease and it does affect everyone. We see people who are young, we see people who are old, people with co-morbidities, people without co-morbidities, and the co-morbidities we see are not necessarily the ones that people associate with deaths.” 

While new hospitalizations are going down every day in the Big Apple, the work in the intensive care unit remains steady, with a “never-ending cycle” of “patients dying and more rolling in.” 

“A lot of death, an incredible amount of death, and a lot of people really doing their best to try and minimize death,” Peters described. 

During a typical week at UCSF’s critical care unit, Peters might see 30 to 40 patients across seven days. 

But during his first week in New York, he was seeing 30 to 40 patients a day. 

“The massive scale and quantity of the illness is just beyond anything that we touch and that is overwhelming. To say it’s overwhelming is just not giving it due diligence to how overwhelming it is,” the doctor said. 

“Then, you know, patients die. And unfortunately, when they die, that’s another bed that opens up that we can put another patient in,” he went on.

“And that’s exactly what happens.” 

He said the hardest part of the job has been breaking the news to family members that their loved one has died. 

“I feel an immense amount of sadness for the families,” Peters said.

“And them not being able to say goodbye and [have] a normal grieving process is just really, it’s really hard,” he went on.

“It’s obviously incredibly devastating for the… [thousands of] people who’ve died in New York. But it’s also really tiring for the staff and the people that are doing that work.” 

Peters’ experience in New York has shown him two “extremes of the human existence,” he said. 

There’s the “sadness and demoralization” that comes with disease’s profound carnage, but there’s also “a lot of inspiration” watching the doctors and the “miraculous things” they’ve accomplished. 

“The people who’ve been there are just some of the most impressive, inspiring individuals that I’ve had the privilege of really working next to,” Peters said. 

“The people that have been working there the whole time… the ones that have been kind of taking it on the chin here, so to speak and really just doing everything they possibly can to save lives,” he went on. 

“To me, those are the real heroes.”

Do you have a nominee for The Post’s Hero of the Day? E-mail [email protected]

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