By Kristen Zapata, School of Dentistry

As a young boy, Jason Jones, DDS, MD, imagined a career different from the oilfield work that pervaded his hometown of Odessa, Texas. While receiving his undergraduate education at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Dr. Jones lived with his best friend’s family, the father of which is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

That was the start of a new path in learning to treat trauma and defects of the mouth, jaw, teeth and face.

In that imagined future, Dr. Jones never pictured himself performing rounds in an intensive care unit alongside other medical personnel pulled from a variety of advanced training programs, to reinforce care efforts during a surge of COVID-19 patients at University Hospital.

Dr. Jones, a fifth-year oral and maxillofacial surgery resident, joined other postdoctoral students from across UT Health San Antonio to care for trauma and critical COVID-19 positive patients admitted to University Hospital.

Training as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon requires the successful completion of dental school and a six-year surgical residency, in which trainees acquire a medical degree while also receiving instruction in general, vascular and cardiothoracic surgery as well as surgical trauma, neurosurgery and anesthesia.

An ICU surgical rotation is also part of future oral surgeons’ training. This includes providing primary care for patients due to trauma or disease, however, Dr. Jones never realized this training would make him essential to the frontlines of history, serving in the midst of a pandemic that has killed half a million people around the world.

On a typical day, Dr. Jones begins his 12-hour shift around 6:30 a.m. by examining medical charts and visiting with the five to eight COVID-19 positive patients assigned to his team’s care in the ICU. Dr. Jones works with a group of critical care specialists to plan each patient’s treatment.

Also working with palliative care specialists, Dr. Jones and his teammates develop a plan to increase each patient’s quality of life and provide support for their families as they explain the severity of their loved one’s illness.

“Most of the patients I am caring for are on respiratory life support with some having additional infections and others dealing with multi-organ system failure,” Dr. Jones said. “Their care is demanding at all hours of the day. Caring for them has and will have a lasting impact on me.”

Fellow oral and maxillofacial surgery resident Adam Wandell, DDS, MD, in his fourth year of residency, has also joined a medical team providing care to non-critical, COVID-19 positive patients at the hospital.

Dr. Wandell is assigned to Team L, a two-member team with associate professor of internal medicine, Wiley Perkins, MD. With his workday beginning around 5:30 a.m., Dr. Wandell arrives at the hospital to review medical charts of the patients in his care, around 12 total.

Once Dr. Wiley arrives, Team L begins the process of donning their personal protective equipment consisting of a medical gown, gloves, N-95 mask and a face shield prior to entering any patient room.

Once they’ve visited with each patient in their care and ordered future treatment, the team reports to the emergency room to evaluate new patients and determine their condition for admittance into the hospital. They end their shift around 6 p.m.

“I never could have anticipated being on a [medical rotation], taking care of patients suffering during a pandemic,” Dr. Wandell said. “However, it has been a learning experience and I am grateful for the opportunity to aid during these uncertain times.”

Dr. Jones emphasized that the severity of COVID-19 is case dependent and there is no way to predict how a person’s body will react to the virus beforehand.

“These families who have loved ones in the hospital are unable to see their family members because of COVID-19, and it is emotionally straining for the families and the patients who could use their comfort,” Dr. Jones said. “People need to wear masks, not only to protect themselves and others who they might directly come in contact with, but also to protect those who care for positive COVID-19 patients.”