Acts of Kindness: Fighting COVID in Ohio

More than a year into the Coronavirus pandemic, a Fenwick alumnus, whose class is celebrating its 50th reunion this fall, reflects on the pandemic from the perspective of a front-line health care professional.

By Dr. James Tita ‘71

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime. Most physicians go through their entire career and never experience an event of this magnitude. As a physician who specializes in pulmonary and critical-care medicine, I found myself confronting an illness that had never afflicted humans.

The SARS-Cov-2 virus, identified only in bats previously, was reported in late 2019 from Wuhan, China, as the cause of an outbreak of a severe viral pneumonia. The illness appeared to be very contagious and frequently deadly. There had been limited outbreaks of two other similar coronavirus illnesses within the last 15 to 20 years, but SARS-Cov-2 virus appeared to be much more contagious. Our fascination with the medical reports coming out China soon turned to dread as the virus spread to Europe and beyond.

I recall our public health authorities estimating that, based on a handful of positive tests in Ohio, the virus had infected 6,000 people across the state by mid-March 2020. By the end of that month, our hospitals went into crisis mode as they were overwhelmed by the number of patients with COVID pneumonia. Elective surgeries were canceled, and most of the hospital was filled with critically ill COVID patients on ventilators. Many were elderly and frail. Supplies such as N-95 masks, gloves and gowns were in short supply and had to be re-used.

Since there were no effective treatments, we offered largely supportive care. Because of the need for strict isolation, families were not allowed to visit, even at end of life. The isolation this caused only added to the anguish and despair. We tried to facilitate video visits, but most times the patients were too sedated to communicate.

Watch the heart-wrenching video from a Toledo, local TV news station.

Dr. Tita is Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, OH.

Caring for patients became difficult because of the constant need for personal protective equipment. The fear that any of us could become infected, and potentially spread the disease to our families, was always present. And yet, despite the long hours and difficult and stressful conditions, our nurses, respiratory therapists and staff demonstrated a level of professionalism, teamwork and compassion that was inspirational. Acts of kindness were easy to find.

Ebb and flow

By summer, the number of new cases had fallen dramatically, and our COVID caseloads dropped. The hospitals started to open for elective surgeries. People grew tired of masking and social distancing and began to let their guard down. It was not uncommon to see large gatherings of people at a party or other event. Unfortunately, the virus was not gone and, by late fall and winter, our case numbers began to skyrocket. Hospital beds again filled with COVID patients.

This second surge was different, however. The average age was about 10 years younger than in the spring. We don’t know why exactly but believe it was related to the fact that the nursing homes, through strictly limiting visitation, were able to keep their residents safe. I think we got better at managing the illness as well. We used more alternatives to invasive ventilation, such as high-flow oxygen. We also had a drug (dexamethasone), which was modestly effective at treating those who had severe pneumonia. (Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid used in a wide range of conditions for its anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects.)

But despite these small improvements, the United States recorded its highest daily COVID death numbers in January this year at more than 4,000 deaths. We are closing in on nearly 600,000 deaths in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vaccine relief

Fenwick faculty and staff had opportunities to receive the COVID vaccine this past winter.

From my perspective, a turning point came in late November when the FDA gave Emergency Use Authorization to the Pfizer vaccine and, shortly thereafter, to the Moderna vaccine. Last summer we could only dream about an effective vaccine for this illness. While some worry that these vaccines were “rushed into production,” the technology for mRNA vaccines was developed nearly 10 years ago. The Chinese, early in the pandemic, were able to map out the entire viral genome. From there, we were able to find the sequence that coded for the spike protein on the surface of the virus; insert this sequence using nanotechnology into a lipid coat, and the vaccine was complete. These mRNA vaccines have been extraordinarily safe and effective. I was among the first to receive the vaccine in December and strongly recommend the same to all members of the community. The more people we get vaccinated, the less the virus can replicate and the less chance for variants to occur. (Fenwick faculty and staff received first shots in late February.)

For those who recover from COVID, approximately 10% to 30% develop post-acute syndrome. These “long-haulers,” as they are referred to, can suffer lingering symptoms for weeks to months after the infection. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, racing heart, cough and headache. Many other symptoms have been described including prolonged loss of taste and smell, sleep disturbances and GI [gastrointestinal] problems. Most people with this syndrome were not hospitalized and reported relatively mild COVID symptoms.

We cannot know how and when the pandemic will end. It has been said “the virus will do what the virus will do.” However, given the outbreaks occurring in India and South America, it is likely that COVID will become endemic. [An endemic is a disease that belongs to a particular people or country.] Vaccine hesitancy has stalled vaccination rates in our communities and does not bode well for the U.S. to reach herd immunity. Local outbreaks, such as the one occurring in Michigan currently, are likely to continue until more of the population becomes vaccinated.

Pandemics change history, and it is likely our lives and world will be changed as well. Only in retrospect will we understand the significance of this pandemic.

James Tita’s Blackfriars yearbook photo from 1971. The Berwyn boy was a member of the National Honor Society and German Club as well as a debater and Illinois State Scholar semi-finalist.

About the Author

A native of Berwyn, IL, Fenwick alumnus James Tita is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians. A specialist in pulmonary and critical-care medicine, Dr. Tita is the Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio.

Cold War on the Airwaves: The Radio Propaganda War Against East Germany

Almost 50 years since graduation, this loyal alumnus still is writing book reviews for Fenwick!

By Timothy Fitzpatrick ’71 (MAJ, USA, Ret.), HHC Berlin Brigade and 4th BN, 6th in 1980-1983

In 1970 I was bombarded with images of the world as seen through U.S. media and prevailing opinion-makers in the United States as the Vietnam War was dragging on and numerous Communist challenges were confronting our country. I was a 17-year-old Fenwick High School rising senior that summer and took my first flight ever, on my first overseas experience ever, and landed in Berlin for 10 days of my six-week Foreign Study League German immersion program led by Father Nicholas Aschenbrenner, O.P., our Fenwick German instructor. Our group took some of our meals in the Free University dining hall where tables covered with Marxist and Maoist literature were hawking their wares mostly to students trying to ignore them. I bought an ITT Schaub – Lorenz radio and listened across many bands to various broadcasts and was surprised at the clarity of BBC world broadcast and Voice of America compared to other nation’s broadcasts. I even tuned into Radio Albania, which would turn anyone away from Marxism by their heavy-handed diatribes.

As a group, we began a tour of East Berlin by walking through Check Point Charlie. In contrast to the relaxed, confident and friendly U.S. MPs [military police] at Checkpoint Charlie, the East German foreign visitor checkpoint was designed to intimidate — with your passport disappearing and sense that the wait gave them time to begin a file on you and make you nervous; both, in fact, true. Once through and walking along Friedrichstrasse towards Unter den Linden, there were numerous anti-USA posters in English, clearly aimed at me.

East Berlin was a sad contrast to West Berlin in all things. I was saddened to see a burned-out Cathedral and nearby the twin French and German Churches barely standing in the shell of their walls with trees growing through. The Alexander Platz shopping area and the newly opened (October 1969) Berliner Fernsehturm or Pope’s Revenge (we mistakenly called it the funkturm) were clearly meant to be a showcase for DDR [German Democratic Republic] progressiveness, but the lack of goods in shops gave away the lie. I was amazed that East Berlin youth were not listening to Radio Berlin DDR broadcasts emanating from that tower, but to RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) and U.S. Military Armed Forces Network broadcasts. The contrast between communism and its threat to freedom and Western democracy and capitalism and freedom could not be made starker to me, and this is where I decided to join the U.S. Army.

My experiences as a youth in Berlin, as a member of the Berlin Brigade and as a Psychological Operations Officer, have always made me appreciate RIAS, but I never knew the breadth and depth of what RIAS meant to U.S. efforts in Berlin and to the people of East Germany. Nicholas J. Schlosser, in his book Cold War on the Airwaves: The Radio Propaganda War against East Germany, has given us a precious gift to our understanding of the contributions of RIAS to the psychological combat between the Soviet block and the United States and between the contrasts in freedom between East and West Germany. The book sums up the importance of RIAS to East Germans, Berliners and the United States powerfully when Schlosser writes “….RIAS went from being just a purveyor of news and information to a quasi-United States Embassy, a representative of the United States  in East Germany.” RIAS was founded by and controlled by the United States but staffed by German-Berliners and engaged in the front lines of influence and political warfare against communism.

Schlosser relates the early foundations of RIAS to counter Radio Berlin that the Soviets took despite being in the British Sector (the Eifel Tower-like Funkturm) and refused to share with the other occupying powers. To compete, though late, the American Forces initiated broadcasts on the old, Nazi-wired (telephone line) radio system developed so allied WWII bombers could not home in on Berlin through a signal. This Wired (Drahtfunk) Broadcasting in the American Sector (DIAS) initiated U.S. broadcasting in its sector as the voice of the U.S. Occupation Government. It soon began radio broadcast and became Radio (Rundfunk) in the American Sector (RIAS).

Schlosser relates the stages of RIAS effort over time and in reaction to Berlin and world events. Throughout its history, RIAS emphasis on credible and objective news from a United States perspective and calling out DDR and communist failings were its hallmark. The people of East Germany came to rely on this during crisis after crisis, starting with the Berlin Airlift during the 17 June 1953 East German uprising and Soviet suppression, the Berlin crisis and the construction of the wall, and during the long period of the Cold War, easing tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the collapse of the wall, and Berlin and German reunification.

Schlosser writes this book not in a technical manner, but in very human terms that goes to the heart of RIAS’s dedicated staff and their understanding of the information (and entertainment) needs of their audience in clear contrast to communist deterministic programming. 

I strongly recommend this book for all students of history as you explore the totality of what the U.S. meant to Berliner’s on both sides of the wall and to complement our own understanding of RIAS giving voice to what we in the U.S. and allied forces physically stood for. 

RIAS still exists as the RIAS Berlin Commission. The RIAS Berlin Commission was founded in 1992 as a binational organization for the promotion of German-American understanding in the field of broadcasting and promotes the exchange of persons and information in the field of broadcast journalism between the two countries.

Cold War on the Airwaves: The Radio Propaganda War against East Germany by Nicholas J. Schlosser is Published by the University of Illinois Press (1st Edition November 3, 2015) and is available at Amazon.

Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall

By Tim Fitzpatrick ’71

Tim Fitzpatrick afront East Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate as a Fenwick junior in 1970. (The gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution.)

I first visited Berlin in 1970 on a Fenwick High School language trip with Father Nicholas Aschenbrener, O.P.  After living through the 1960s’ Berlin Wall crisis with John. F. Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner Speech” and experiencing the wall in person, I joined the United States Army.  I returned as an infantry officer in 1980 and my twin boys, Tim and Danny, were born in Berlin.  I had previously led Cold War staff rides in Berlin for students in the Department of Defense Executive Leadership Development Program NATO deployments. In September 2018, son Danny, one-year-old grandson Asher and Shawna’s parents were able to watch Danny’s wife Shawna complete the Berlin Marathon, which I had done while stationed in Berlin. 

Fitz (left) at Glienicke Brucke (Bridge of Spies) in 1980.

The Berlin House of Representatives sponsors the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, founded in 1994.  The foundation runs the Welcome Home program to sponsor U.S. Military veterans to return to Berlin, to share their story with Berlin schools, government and other organizations, and for them to experience Berlin as it has emerged from the Cold War into a very lively city.

I was privileged to be the group leader for nine U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Berlin veterans, representing a good cross-section of America, whose service in Berlin spanned from 1959 to 1993, greater than the life of the Berlin Wall itself.  For each of us, the shared common bond and deep emotions about our service in Berlin, and connection to Berliners, caused us to form almost instantly into a tight-knit group.

We stayed in the Hotel Air, Berlin center near the “KeDeWe” department store. We had a warm and gracious “Welcome Home” dinner at the Europa Center’s Kartoffelkisten. On Saturday 11 May we started our tour at the Glienicker Brucke (Bridge of Spies) and a tour of the Russian Colony, Potsdam (including Sanssouci Palace), culminating with a tour of Cecilianhof Palace where the Potsdam conference at the end of WWII was held.

Fitz (left) with 98-year-old retired U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen. “Hal” is best known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and gained fame for dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

What made this year’s tour so exciting was the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift and the following reception in our old Outpost Theater, now Allied Museum, which allowed us to shake the hand of the famous Berlin Airlift “Candy Bomber” Colonel (USAF, Ret.) Gail Halvorsen (98 years old!). The host was the German Minister of Defense, who gave a very moving speech about the Allies saving Berlin and about the importance of Freedom – Freiheit! She awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan. After receiving his medal he joined the BUSMVA vets for some soldier stories. The evening concluded with an honor guard and serenade by the Luftwaffe band and troops.

“Candy Bomber” Col. Halvorsen (later commander of Tempelhof Air Force Base), speaks at the wreath laying for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

On Sunday 12 May, we participated in the wreath-laying commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the End of the Berlin Airlift at the Luftbrucke Memorial at Tempelhof. Col. Halvorsen was the featured speaker along with senior representatives of Germany, Berlin and all participating Allied nations. A reception followed, with a greeting of Airlift veterans, other dignitaries, and ourselves by the Berlin Governing Mayor in the main Tempelhof terminal hall. An interpretive music and dance performance held at the Columbia Theater (former US Air Force base theater) featured children from Berlin’s Gail Halvorsen School and the Stiftung Luftbrückendank (Airlift Gratitude Foundation founded in 1959 by Willy Brandt). Daniel de la Fuentes performed an original work “Flying for Freedom.” You could see these things done in their honor having a profound effect on Airlift veterans of each nation. Most stayed to enjoy the mass celebration under the Templehof aircraft awning. The USAFE Band played, dressed in WWII-era, Glenn Miller band uniforms to huge crowds, with an Airlift museum set up in a the hanger. Tempelhof is no longer an active airfield but a massive park where thousands of people play and stroll.

The Minister of Defense awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson (the decorated one!) for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan.

Monday 13 May we toured our former headquarters, Clay Compound, and McNair Barracks. Almost all is recognizable, but where we once did PT, or stood formation or lined up our reaction platoon armored vehicles, children now play — and the buildings are apartments. Throughout there are little memorials to our presence and the streets have retained their U.S. names. Andrews Barracks now houses the German National Archives and has some new buildings. While an archives employee was telling us about the buildings, it was fun to watch their little fork lift go by still marked “U.S. Army!”

“Ich bin ein Berliner” is a speech by United States President John F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. It is widely regarded as the best-known speech of the Cold War and the most famous anti-communist speech.

We ate lunch at the Schoneberg Rathause, made famous by President Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) speech. It houses a research library dedicated to memorializing those apprehended and killed by the Nazis. Students do the research and a Stolperstein (stumble stone) is embedded near the entrance of where the victim were last free. This stumble stone is a paver with a brass top engraved with their name, date of arrest and where they were murdered. Every time you touch one, you remember that person, what happened to them, and why the United States was in Berlin.

Stolperstein is a “stumbling stone,” (3.9 in × 3.9 in) concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.
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