Haris, a senior at Watchung Hills Regional High School, has seen the coronavirus pandemic from a unique vantage point. He watched his family lose three beloved members, including his paternal grandfather. He witnessed his mother, Overlook infectious disease specialist Meher Sultana, MD, work long hours treating hundreds of coronavirus patients. And he experienced, firsthand, the fragile line between life and death as a member of the Warren Township Rescue Squad.
“During the surge of patients in March and April, my mother worked 12 – 14 hour days for eight weeks straight,” says Haris. “There were still many unknowns at the time about how the virus was spread, so my mom moved into a guest room in our house and limited her interaction with us. Both my dad and my 13-year-old sister have asthma, so she was being extra careful not to expose us.
“Typically, my mom does the cooking; but since she was isolating herself from us and rarely home, I took over the meal preparation,” Haris continues. “I always enjoyed watching her cook, so I started experimenting with recipes and watching cooking videos. Over time, I became pretty good! When my mom came home from the hospital, she would change in the garage, run into the guest room to shower, and I’d put a tray of food at her door.”
In conversations with his mom during those stressful weeks, Haris learned that personal protective equipment was in short supply among hospital staff as well as among elderly residents in the community.
“I’m familiar with N95 masks as a member of the rescue squad, and I know that they lose their effectiveness over time if they are reused,” comments Haris. “My dad and I came up with the idea of raising money for staff personal protective equipment through GoFundMe and CaringCrowd. We wrote project descriptions on each of those online crowdfunding platforms and shared links with our friends and neighbors.”
Within two weeks, more than 100 donors had contributed over $10,000 via GoFundMe. Thanks to matching funds from Johnson & Johnson, CaringCrowd generated an additional $2,200. The Shareefs donated the money raised to the Overlook Foundation.
“Overlook is part of our community, and by reaching out to local residents who have a vested interest in supporting our community hospital, we had an enthusiastic response,” observes Haris’ dad, Ahmed Shareef, who also procured masks for distribution to local senior citizens through Warren’s Office of Emergency Management.
“The success of our fundraising efforts illustrates what a caring community we have and demonstrates what people can accomplish when they work together,” adds Haris, who also started a blog about the facts and myths associated with COVID-19 aimed at his peers.
Like so many of you who have chosen Overlook as your “healthcare home,” the Shareefs have a bond with our medical center that spans decades. Dr. Sultana completed her residency training at Overlook; and both Haris and his sister Sania were born here. During the early years of Dr. Sultana’s medical career, their young family lived down the street from the hospital’s main entrance on Beauvoir Avenue.
Given Haris’ upbringing, it might come as no surprise that he aspires to be a physician. “My parents always encouraged me to keep my options open, but my interests continually reverted back to medicine and science. After joining the rescue squad and having an opportunity to help people directly, I knew it was my calling.
“It’s given me a true look at what medicine is,” says Haris about his EMS role. “There are good days and there are dark days. The good days are what propel healthcare workers to keep going; but the dark days – the critical situations – require you to step up and give it your best shot. That’s the call to action.”
Being able to react in a crisis with compassion for others is good preparation for becoming a physician, asserts Haris; and that’s what he admires most about his mother.
“My mom is more than a role model, she’s a template for character,” Haris proudly explains. “I want to replicate her caring, honest compassionate character. They are the most important values, whatever field you’re in.”
It takes a community to care for a community; and our community of caregivers is truly grateful for your compassion and support!