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CHUCK BENNETT

Society: Local doctor volunteers to help those hit hard by COVID-19 in the Northeast

Chuck Bennett
Special to The Detroit News

Since she was a little girl in the third grade, growing up in the Boston-Edison area of Detroit’s westside, Leslie Walton dreamed of becoming a doctor. “I was always told it was unattainable,” she recalls. “But I wasn’t giving up. It was my life goal.”

Today, at 39, she is an elegant, giving, prominent physician, who has been practicing medicine for eight years, specializing in anesthesiology. She spent four years at Henry Ford Hospital and is now part of Ascension Medical Center at St. John Providence.

Walton is a champion of mankind, advocating for the best medical practices and resources available. She is often seen supporting local charities such as Cheers for Children (Children’s Hospital), Friendship Circle, American Heart Association, National Kidney Foundation and the Rhonda Walker Foundation. Her passion is making sure we take care of ourselves, and more importantly, that our hospital systems are properly prepared to take care of us when necessary.

 To lend her hand and expertise to the COVID-19 situation, Walton traveled to  New York and New Jersey. She volunteered for four weeks during late May and early June to ease the pain of the volatile condition. t“I read about how minorities were suffering from COVID at higher numbers,” she explains. “I saw a video about how hospitals in New York and New Jersey were struggling with treating patients. It was a knee-jerk reaction to go and help those who were in need in such large numbers.”

Dr. Leslie Walton, adjusting a ventilator for a patient in New York City.

Living and working in New York and New Jersey temporarily was a life-changing experience for Walton. “It really allowed me to put health care in perspective and to reprioritize my life,” she explains. “It also allowed me to place value on being a physician, which is often taken for granted. During my trip, I realized, how important good health care is, how important it is to be a patient advocate and how social inequity really plays a role in the care of patients. There were certain people who suffered more simply because of social inequities.”

She tells the story of a patient, who was in her 70s and was intubated and on a ventilator in ICU. “Her entire family had passed away from COVID,” she says. “Eventually, she succumbed from COVID as well. At one point I thought, if she survives this, her husband, brother, and son, all died from COVID, and she would wake up alone. But this is the thing about COVID, it really attacks those nuclear families that live together under one roof. So as a result, we had a high number of African-Americans and Latina Americans who were suffering.”

She also had a healthy patient who was a dental student. He was his mother’s only child, and his mother described him as a perfect child. He had suffered from Rheumatoid arthritis, which put him at greater risk. “His mother prayed and fought so hard for his recovery,” recalls Walton. “After every effort, he passed away.”

Dr. Leslie Walton

“That experience was very emotionally jarring,” she admits. “Even though we had losses like these, we also had several wins. We were able to get some husbands home to wives, daughters home to mothers. We were able to reunite quite a few families with their loved ones after not being able to see each other for weeks.”

Currently, Walton is a medical and health advocate, urging people to take care of themselves. “Take care of yourself while you are healthy, so we are not in compromised health if COVID comes back around. There really is importance in social distancing , washing hands and practicing good hygiene.”

Walton is using her spare time to address the social gaps in health care, particularly for those who are socially disadvantaged. “The hospital systems have to offer the same quality of care to all patients, regardless of the location,” she says. “Patients also need to be informed to know things like where to go to receive care and how to take care of themselves. Patients need to know their bodies and know when your body is telling you that it is not well. There is much work to be done on both sides -- the health care industry and the patient. Once we bridge the gaps, we will start to see better patient outcomes. I will fight with everything in me until these matters improve.”

Chuck Bennett is the Fox 2 News Style Ambassador and the creator of TheSocialMetro.com.