Mason graduate Margaret Zhang fights on frontlines against pandemic

Anushka Mukherjee | Staff Writer

While the coronavirus continues its infiltration in our society, many medical experts including Mason graduate Dr. Margaret Zhang are fighting front-line. 

Dr. Margaret Zhang

Dr. Margaret Zhang graduated from The Ohio State University medical school in 2019. Currently, she is a first-year psychiatry resident, with experience in both internal and emergency medicine, at Mount Sinai in New York City. As a psychiatry resident, she has completed two months of neurology, four months of medicine, and six months of psychiatry. With the residency, she has completed tasks similar to those of medicine residents almost like a medicine intern. Dr. Zhang didn’t just become a volunteer, she became a front-line fighter as one of her co-residents fell sick.

“COVID started hitting our hospital, so emergency medicine and internal medicine residencies started asking other medical residencies for help because the staffing was getting short (because residents were getting sick),” Dr. Zhang said. “The patient population was growing. As psychiatry residents, we do rotations in both internal medicine and emergency medicine so I knew I had the fundamental knowledge needed to help.” 

Given the risky circumstances and the severity of the situation, Dr. Zhang admitted that she was worried at first. 

“I initially was a little scared since one of our hospital nurse managers died from COVID,” Dr. Zhang. “But then I considered the fact that I was a healthy, young doctor, who wasn’t living with a family, who could seriously help at a time when help was very much needed. I thought about how important our service was to these patients, and I just kept landing on the fact that it was the right thing to do.” 

Many patients have raised concerns regarding coronavirus testing as it fails to assess the spread of the virus. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently granted permission to authorize for antibody tests at Mt. Sinai which will help detect the severity of COVID-19. Dr. Zhang says that these tests can potentially help COVID-19 patients get better as they fight off invaders in the body. 

“Antibodies are these amazing things in your body that your immune system makes in reaction to any invaders, but mostly bacteria and viruses,” Dr. Zhang said. “Your immune system can see an invader and then create a little robot which will then forever recognize that specific invader and help destroy it–think of it like a search dog which recognizes one scent and will only follow that one scent; this little robot/trained search dog is an antibody.”

Dr. Zhang tested positive for antibodies, which meant that she had been infected with the coronavirus at one point, and she could help more people through the convalescent plasma donation process. 

“The antibody test measures the number of these little search robots you have in your blood,” Dr. Zhang said. “This means two important things: the first is that antibodies are only created by your immune system if they have seen an invader in your body; that means if you have COVID antibodies, you definitely had COVID. The second is that if you have a lot of antibodies, you can probably donate your antibodies to someone else without compromising your body’s defenses. This antibody donation is done by donating plasma since antibodies float in your plasma.”

The only downside to the antibody testing is that they are limited. The FDA is still working on authorizing more tests, but as for now, one test is available in NYC as Mount Sinai Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, and the New York Blood Center are requesting recovered COVID-19 patients to donate plasma.

“Right now antibody testing is very limited, and I think very few of the tests out are FDA approved,” Dr. Zhang said. “Mt. Sinai may have one of the first approved FDA tests, but I’m hopeful that big hospitals across the country will be able to get antibody testing very shortly. With Mt Sinai, I think they’re still only testing formerly symptomatic patients whose symptoms are now gone, but each institution will have different guidelines based off of how many tests they have available.”

Zhang (second from left) pictured with her co-workers and a therapy dog.

With the medical world making some headway in dealing with the virus, Dr. Zhang believes that people can help their communities fight the virus too. 

“Besides wearing masks/covering your faces in public, donating blood is really important right now as we have a blood shortage and patients still need them,” Dr. Zhang said. “But just remember everyone’s experience with this is going to be different–some people’s grandmas or uncles will be sick, some people’s parents will have lost jobs, some people will be super anxious that they will be sick, so go easy on yourself and everyone else around you.”

Zhang’s twitter, where she is posting updates on her work and the virus, can be found here.

Illustration by Riley Johansen.