By Elizabeth Dobbins
LOWELL — Before a recent procedure, Arthur Lauretano, a surgeon at Lowell General, sent his parents a photo of him wearing protective gear. They told him to stay safe.
“We’re very concerned about his health right now, but we hope the Lord gives him the strength to continue what he’s doing,” said his mother Mary Anne Lauretano.
Risk is not new for Arthur Lauretano, a 56-year-old Medford native who graduated medical school amid the AIDS crisis. His job has put him at risk for a number of diseases, like tuberculosis and a bacterial infection that causes meningitis. Bringing something home to his family in Andover has been on his mind since well before the current outbreak.
“What if I get HIV and give it to them?” he said.
The coronavirus outbreak has required rapid adjustment in many areas of Lowell General, where Lauretano is not only a surgeon, but also the chief medical officer and medical director of a multidisciplinary ear, nose and throat clinic.
This includes scheduling more telehealth appointments, something Lauretano said Lowell General was well-prepared to employ.
It also means increased emphasis on personal protective equipment, he said. Put on the equipment first, then help.
“I actually have to take care of myself first before I go in and take care of the patient,” he said. “That is so foreign to people in medicine.”
People scheduled for surgeries — and starting this week anyone who is considered in-patient — are tested for the coronavirus at Lowell General.
As a surgeon specializing in ear, nose and throat, Lauretano said he has performed several tracheotomies on COVID-19 patients, who have been using breathing tubes long-term. The surgery puts anyone in the room at risk of coming in contact with aerosolized virus particles, he said. For these procedures, the number of people in the room has been cut in half and everyone wears full protective equipment.
While concerns of a second wave remain, Lauretano said the hospital is also carefully booking appointments for non-coronavirus related surgeries and diagnostic tests. Amid the pandemic, some of these procedures have been delayed. In other cases, patients have delayed seeking care and the hospital is seeing people arrive who are sicker than usual, he said.
“There’s a big national concern that people are actually neglecting care,” he said.
Lauretano said these factors have required the team at Lowell General to be proactive and think “outside of the box.”
“It’s really just letting everyone know that we are still there for everyone,” he said.
Lauretano said he has not seen his 28-year-old daughter since the start of the outbreak, though he occasionally sees his 21-year-old son. He recalled one meet up with a family member where they talked over coffee — from 50 feet away at opposite sides of a backyard.
Through this, Lauretano calls his parents nearly every day. His mother Mary Anne Lauretano, 79, and father Arthur A. Lauretano, 81, say they follow their son’s advice, going from frequently meeting with a large group of friends to staying home.
“We changed our lifestyle completely,” said Lauretano’s father.
Though they worry, they say they’re proud their son pursued a career in medicine.
Arthur Lauretano started volunteering at Lawrence Memorial Hospital of Medford at 16 years old transporting patients. He was accepted into medical school directly out of high school for a six-year program at Boston University. He later attended Harvard University and most recently received a masters in Healthcare Management and Clinical Informatics from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
His father, who worked in construction, said Lauretano would have succeeded in anything he pursued.
“Arthur actually worked for me some summers,” his father said. “And if he had been in the construction business, he would have been as great a success as he is as a physician.”