Every crisis needs a hero

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Rufus
  • 57th Wing Public Affairs

Firefighters rush into burning buildings. Pilots fly into war. Soldiers put themselves on the front line. 

Every crisis has individuals who put themselves in harm’s way to help others and although he wouldn’t consider himself a hero, the actions of Capt. (Dr.) Christopher Weisgarber, 3rd year chief resident assigned to the 99th Medical Group at Family Medicine Residency (FMR) during Nellis’ COVID-19 response were heroic.

During the peak of the pandemic, Weisgarber volunteered at University Medical Center (UMC), exposing himself to countless patients who carried the virus, while his wife, Allie, was 37 weeks pregnant. 

Weisgarber, risked his health, as well as the health of his family, keeping team Nellis and the local population healthy.

After doing all he could to treat patients at the UMC and possibly contracting COVID-19 himself, Weisgarber said he was forced to self-quarantine in his own home for 14 days to mitigate the chances of spreading the virus to his family, staying in a separate room and wearing masks at home. 

“It’s tough when you’re technically living with your spouse but it feels more like a roommate situation,” said Weisgarber.

Allie’s due date was less than a month away, so Weisgarber did the best he could to continuously check on her via text messaging and video calls. 

Weisgarber said it was a tough time for the couple, but together they overcame this obstacle and welcomed their now 3-month-old daughter, Emery, to their family. 

“Him going to work every day during a time like this is very scary, but I know he wouldn’t intentionally put us is in a situation that would endanger us,” said Allie. “I’m very proud of him and everyone else he works with. It’s not easy doing the job that they do, and then to do it during a pandemic makes it even more heroic.” 

As FMR residents progress in the program, they begin working shifts at local hospitals by extending a helping hand at various locations such as the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at UMC and labor and delivery at Sunrise Hospital. 

“The importance of family medicine has skyrocketed during this pandemic because we are able to limit the number of people required to go to the hospital by helping manage symptoms from home,” said Weisgarber. “Hospitals are being overwhelmed, and being able to essentially play our part and alleviate some of the stress on the hospital contributes greatly.” 

Weisgarber’s passion for family medicine was sparked when his nephew, Donovan, was born and immediately diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic disorder that, by trait, means the body does not have the motor neurons to help it move, typically killing children around the age of one. 

Due to Donovan’s family practitioner identifying the illness early and enrolling Donovan in a genetic-gene therapy trial, he recently celebrated his fourth birthday. 

“It puts a fire underneath you that motivates you to continue to learn and help your patients in whatever care they need,” said Weisgarber. “Donovan’s provider had such an impact on myself and my entire family. To have the opportunity to potentially pay it forward goes a long way for me.”

As a chief resident at FMR, Weisgarber gets the opportunity to lead a program designed to provide residents with integrated experiences in ambulatory, community and in-patient environments during their three years of intensive study and hands-on training. 

“There is nothing more valuable than human life and to have it in your hands is a huge responsibility,” said Weisgarber. “To bring someone back to stabilization from trauma or illness and get them back to the quality of life that they’re hoping to achieve is extremely rewarding. So, as terrifying as it is at times, I get to help people every single day and that’s what motivates me.” 

Coming into work every day and knowing people’s lives are in your hands is a responsibility that keeps the residents training around the clock to ensure they keep the Air Force’s most valuable weapon system healthy, its Airmen.