Dr. Omar Hafiz

Dr. Omar Hafiz was infected with coronavirus in May. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 September 2020

Dr. Omar Hafiz

  • General practitioner in the ER
  • East Jeddah General Hospital

MAKKAH: Dr. Omar Hafiz was infected with coronavirus in May while on call in one of the COVID-19 wards of the Jeddah hospital.

Without any fever to indicate that he had an infection, Dr. Hafiz only suffered from a mild headache and some fatigue, which he attributed to work stress after being on call for 24 hours, only to find out days later that his sister began showing signs of an infection. The news shocked him after her test results came back positive.

“After my sister’s infection, my family isolated themselves in their rooms as we waited for our test results. Funnily enough, it was a time where we bonded more than ever before, sending each other messages, sharing laughs and speaking over the phone and video calls to keep each other company,” said Dr. Hafiz.

“After my tests confirmed my infection, I was moved to the hospital to be monitored, and all was well until my mother’s test resulted positive. I felt my world was crashing down on me. I couldn’t believe that I infected my mother and I was devastated. I thought I was careful,” he added.

While in isolation, he filmed his experience to help raise awareness about the importance of precautionary measures, posting it on his YouTube page and gaining more than 600,000 views.

“The experiences of patients are the best awareness-raising examples. Therefore, I filmed myself during isolation in the hospital to reassure people and tell them that the virus is not scary, but rather tiring, and that while home isolation might be boring, it is much better than being in a hospital bed,” he said.

After 14 days of recovery, physicians must undergo swab tests twice in order to return back to duty. Dr. Hafiz tested negative, and back to the hospital he went. His mother and sister have also recovered.

Before leaving his room, Dr. Hafiz left an inspirational message to the next person to be quarantined.

He wrote: “Do not give up, my friend. These days will pass and will soon be memories. The virus will go and you will stay. I wish you a happy isolation.” He signed it, “a former isolated man.

The Kingdom vs. COVID-19

How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world

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Dr. Nezar Bahabri

Updated 24 September 2020

Dr. Nezar Bahabri

  • Infectious disease consultant
  • Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital

Clad with his tie, shirt and a big smile, Dr. Nezar Bahabri, a voice of reason during one of the Kingdom’s toughest times, met with Arab News to tell his tale of his fight against coronavirus on two fronts. The biggest would be for his life.

For almost six months, many across the Kingdom and the region would tune in to Dr Bahabri’s social media accounts after COVID-19 made its appearance here in early March. He was the voice that calmed the crowd with sound medical advice to abide by, so they could not only protect themselves from the virus but also calm their weary nerves.

A father of three, he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and enrolled in medicine because it was his father’s wish for his son to be a doctor. He received his certification by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 2007, followed by a fellowship program at the Royal College of Physicians of Canada in Vancouver in 2008 and later acquired his infectious disease certification by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 2010.

“Of all different subspecialties in Internal Medicine, infectious diseases was intriguing because it’s something that happens suddenly, administering effective treatment, then people get better fast,” he explained.

Since the World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11, the consultant took it upon himself to begin educating those around him just as soon as the Kingdom went under lockdown.

Stemming from his deep interest in this field, he highlighted the danger of the virus early on, warning his viewers to be vigilant and not to take the matter lightly.

“Viruses are being evaluated by how fast they spread,” he told Arab News. “Whenever you see such a virus that spreads this fast (and) hits the lungs, leading patients to be admitted into ICUs, then you know you’re dealing with a very dangerous virus.”

“The first news was clear that this virus will disseminate fast, compared to other viruses and as soon as you know that, you’ll know that people will freak out,” added Dr. Bahabri. "The fast spread of the virus prompted me to speak about it. I and everyone specializing in infectious disease knew that this would happen.”

Even while treating more than 500 patients over a span of over four months at Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, spending grueling hours in and out of the COVID-19 units, he addressed conspiracy theories and people’s fears.

“The community depends on news and social media. Infections can’t be controlled without every single person in a community to participate in helping to control it. For a physician, we depend on studies and medical literature to tell the truth. If you leave the community to delve into these theories and not tell them the truth in simple language, the infection will not be controlled,” he said.

Early in August, Saudi Arabia woke up to hear the unfortunate news that their friendly neighborhood doctor had fallen ill with the same disease that he was known to treat patients for. Looking back at the situation with tired eyes, he told Arab News that the situation was dire due to the high number of patients and no rest. “I was doing my rounds on Wednesday, seeing my patients, and they told me that I was sick. They saw it, but I continued working until Saturday until I became worse.”

He accepted the news after going through the typical phases of denial, believing that he would get better with time, only to get worse and require some time in the ICU. “I felt feelings that I never could believe I had before, but I’m a new doctor now,” he said.

A few weeks, after he was finally able to leave and recuperate at home, training and exercising his lungs back to health again.

Though he is one of thousands of healthcare workers who got the infection, Dr. Bahabri’s role in the community was and continues to be relevant and important to continue the fight against the ongoing pandemic.

The Kingdom vs. COVID-19
How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world
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