From left, Jessica Fayans ’09,  Allison Fayans ’15 and Max Fayans ’13.

From left, Jessica Fayans ’09,  Allison Fayans ’15 and Max Fayans ’13.

From Lehigh to Fighting COVID-19

Though involved in different areas of health care, siblings Jessica Fayans ’09, Max Fayans ’13 and Allison Fayans ’15 have each been working in their own way to help stem the pandemic.

Photography by

Christa Neu

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The Fayans siblings—Jessica ’09, Max ’13 and Allison ’15—share more than just a last name and love of all things Lehigh: They’re each involved in different aspects of health care and have been working to stem the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020.

It was the youngest Fayans, Allison, who faced the pandemic most directly. A 2015 behavioral neuroscience graduate, she went on to Hofstra University, earning a master’s degree in physician assistant (PA) studies in 2017. She is now a cardiothoracic surgical PA at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Allison Fayan

Allison Fayan '15

When the city became the epicenter of the pandemic and elective surgeries were cancelled, Allison was deployed from her department to Lenox Hill Hospital’s COVID ICU—a frontline in the fight.

“We were battling against something that we couldn’t see,” says Allison, who worked 13-hour shifts. “I told my parents, ‘I’m not sure when I’ll see you again.’ It felt very much like I was going to war.”

New York City streets were deserted. Many had fled the city for safer places. The subways and Uber weren’t running as normal, necessitating inventive ways of getting home—even Citi Bike at one point. Her roommate had left for her parents’ home in Connecticut at the start of the pandemic, so Allison was very much alone.

“Being exposed to COVID every day, I wanted to stay as healthy as I could, mostly for my patients, and also to not expose anyone else, so I socially distanced and stayed by myself,” Allison says.

Lately, although it’s not yet quite business as usual, she says the situation has gotten better. “The first day I was able to leave the  COVID ICU and go  back to being a cardiothoracic surgical PA, I thought, ‘Wow, I’m so happy to be doing this again.’ It made me realize how much I love what I do and the field I chose to work in. That was a nice awakening.”

Jessica Fayans '09

Jessica Fayans '09 with her son Leo

For Jessica Fayans, COVID-19 meant an increase in emergency patients in her oral and maxillofacial surgery practice, as well as a high risk of potentially contracting the virus when providing care. The 2009 biology graduate attended dental school at the University of Pennsylvania and is now an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in private practice and at Good Samaritan Hospital in Bayshore, N.Y.

Although all elective dentistry in New York was shut down from March through June 2020, oral surgery was the exception. Oral surgeons had to handle an increased load from the lack of availability and access to dental care. Jessica worked throughout the height of the pandemic, when New York City was the viral hotspot in the nation.

“We stopped doing elective surgeries, but were committed to providing care for the management of pain, infections, bleeding and facial trauma,” Jessica says. “Oral surgeons are in an extremely high-risk category for contracting coronavirus due to the close proximity in which we treat patients who cannot wear masks. We had to make do with scarce resources, which were reserved for emergency room management.”

Her team’s mission was to treat patients and prevent them from seeking care in overloaded emergency rooms. This kept patients out of the hospital, where they might be exposed to the virus.

Jessica’s son, Leo, was just 15 months old at the start of the pandemic. “It was an emotional time for me, as I could not comfort or hold my child until I was thoroughly disinfected from my day at work,” she said. “I could not even say hello and had to distance myself all while hearing my son cry. With the diminution of the virus in New York, my son is becoming used to my routine and things have fortunately become a bit easier.”

diagnostic test for covid-19

Max Fayans' employers, Chembio Diagnostic Systems, developed a diagnostic test for COVID-19.

For Fayans sibling Max, the pandemic changed his company’s focus and his own duties. A 2013 biology graduate, Max earned an MBA in health care management from Stony Brook University and is now the global product manager for Chembio Diagnostic Systems in Medford, N.Y.

Usually focused on rapid diagnostic tests for viruses such as HIV, syphilis, Zika, Ebola and dengue, Chembio pivoted at the outbreak of the pandemic to develop and prepare to manufacture as many tests for COVID-19 as possible. A new test, one that indicates active infection through the detection of COVID-19 antigens, was recently submitted to the FDA and is pending review.

“We had to adapt very quickly. We are working seven days a week to get the product ready to go,” Max says. He works with Chembio’s research and development, regulatory and sales teams, putting together product specifications, researching components that go into the tests, and surveying the market to see what is most needed.

“Our test—with results in minutes rather than days—will be used in urgent care clinics, physician office labs, hospitals. It has a wide-ranging scope of use,” Max says.

Raised on Long Island in Oceanside, N.Y., the Fayans siblings come from a health care family. Their father is a dentist and their mother is a nurse. All three took an early interest in science, but it was elder sister Jessica whose childhood dream of following her dad into dentistry brought her to Lehigh.

“I wanted to go to a school that could keep me well-rounded while staying on a pre-med track. Lehigh was that place,” Jessica says.

The Fayans siblings

The siblings celebrate Allison Fayans graduation from Lehigh in 2015.

An Eckardt Scholar, cheerleader and competitive opera singer, Jessica didn’t know she’d be blazing a trail to Lehigh for her brother and sister to follow, but says she wasn’t surprised. “I was having such a great time, and couldn’t speak highly enough about the education I received.”

Max Fayans followed Jessica to Lehigh after having been introduced to the campus by his sister, who took him to his first Lehigh-Lafayette football game.

“I fell in love with Lehigh and knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Max says. He believes the breadth of knowledge he acquired at Lehigh made him “well-prepared, open-minded, and ready to take on the next challenge.”

Allison Fayans was the third sibling to attend Lehigh. Recruited to play Division I lacrosse as a goalkeeper, she says she knew from seeing her older siblings’ experiences at Lehigh that it was the right place for her. “I visited often and fell in love with the ‘Lehigh way,’” Allison says. “I remember going on tours of campus and feeling like I already had an insider scoop, because my sister and brother had given me the ‘real’ tour—a hands-on experience before I even went there.”

Allison says she gained invaluable lessons playing lacrosse  at Lehigh that have helped her in her life and her career. “I learned it’s important to invest your time and effort into something bigger than yourself, to be part of a team and be able to face adversity together. I was able to use my leadership skills, discipline and fearlessness during the pandemic.”

Story by Cynthia Tintorri

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Carolina Hernandez, director of the Lehigh Community Service Office

Carolina Hernandez, director of the Lehigh Community Service Office

My COVID Story: Overcoming Grief and Giving Back to the Community

For Carolina Hernandez, director of the Lehigh Community Service Office, the reality of COVID-19 hit home, and hit hard, with the death of her grandfather back in her hometown Miami. Read her story here.

 

Omogolo “Bishop” Pikinini ’23

Omogolo “Bishop” Pikinini ’23

My COVID Story: Supporting Frontline Workers as an International Student

When COVID-19 forced Lehigh to move classes online last spring, Omogolo “Bishop” Pikinini ’23 was confronted with the same dilemma that many international students faced: Should he return home to his native country (for Pikinini, that’s Botswana) to be with his family, or stay on campus even despite the fact that in-person interactions and campus activity would be limited? Read his story here

Susan Westman ’21

Susan Westman ’21

My COVID Story: Battling on the Front Lines

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Susan Westman ’21—like so many of us—saw her life upended. A member of @lehighrowing, she lost not only the on-campus experience when the university shifted to remote learning, but her rowing season as well. She returned home to live with her parents in Illinois. Very quickly, she admits, the doldrums set in. “To be honest, I was just so used to having athletics and having something to do all the time. … I was so bored.”

She would turn that boredom into a life-changing experience—and an act of public service during a time of crisis. Read her story here.

Rachel Sholder ’16 ’17G

Rachel Sholder ’16 ’17G

My COVID story: Dealing with the Death of a Parent and Pandemic Isolation

Sometimes, COVID-19 can seem so all-consuming that it’s easy to forget that, even in the midst of a pandemic, the realities of normal life—and death—continue to be with us. For Rachel Sholder ’16 ’17G, the latter has been a burden she has borne, sometimes alone, since the start of the year. In January, her father was moved into hospice care, and passed away shortly thereafter. Read her story here.

You can read more My Covid stories here.

Photography by

Christa Neu

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