Health And Wellness

An Addiction Recovery Doctor Got COVID — Then Moved His Career To The Frontlines To Save Lives In A New Way

Dr. George Fallieras

Dr. George Fallieras is used to dealing with stressful situations and has a long history of treating patients recovering from addiction. But the pandemic was a hectic and powerful transition for him, stretching his skills, patience, and endurance to an extent he hadn’t experienced before. He quickly realized the immense emotional toll it would take to treat and grieve patients suffering and dying from COVID-19 one year after the chaos began. 

Fallieras, an internal medicine doctor at Good Samaritan Hospital-Los Angeles and medical director for BioCorRx, fell ill himself in March 2020 with COVID-19, right as the pandemic started to ramp up. While he wasn’t severely ill, he was out of work and for about three weeks. His focus on trying to get back to help his patients while he himself recovered is a testament to his character.

"I couldn’t wait to get back to work," he says. "I felt I was missing out when there’s a critical situation where you want to feel useful, and you aren’t able to participate ... it kills you."

But when he was able to return, his selflessness continued. As he'd developed antibodies during his illness, Dr. Fallieras found himself volunteering to treat COVID-19 patients to try to save his coworkers from contracting the deadly virus themselves. He’d offer to intubate the very sick, for example, rather than risk a colleague being exposed.

While normally Fallieras’ focus is creating innovative treatments for addiction recovery, such as a new implant device he’s working on with BioCorRx Pharmaceuticals that decreases alcohol and opioid cravings in the first six months after recovery, he pivoted when he was needed.

He started working with intensive care unit patients at nearby Los Angeles Surge Hospital during the peak of the pandemic when the overflow facility was needed. He also worried about patients with non-coronavirus-related concerns who were avoiding getting medical treatment to avoid the virus.

Dr. Fallieras also saw a struggle with psychiatric patients not being able to get the help they need as their positive tests would stay positive for weeks after they were well, preventing them from being able to access care. All of these subgroups weighed heavily on him as he navigated his day-to-day patient care.

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"It’s a mixed gamut of emotions. On the one hand, the work we do is always meaningful and important. It’s a  very rewarding feeling that you're doing something of value and useful, so you fight through exhaustion and other concerns," he says. "But pockmarked with that are various situations where you slow down and recognize the suffering and the inability of the patients to be with their families."

He compares his typical day-to-day work, and even typical ICU patients, to pandemic patients. Notably, he explains, most emergency patients are already quite sick when they come to the ICU, having had heart attacks or other major medical situations. He says people that sick normally die before a doctor can really form a relationship with them. However, with COVID-19, this isn’t the case.

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"This disease is unique because patients arrive one after another, cardboard cutouts of each other, their X-rays look the same. They got sick, started feeling bad, and a week later got shortness of breath, or are weak and dizzy, and someone calls EMS," Dr. Fallieras says. 

"We give oxygen and they start to feel much better, and we admit them and they are completely lucid, feeling improved and talking to you. You admit them, and still many of those end up dying," he explains. "That’s tough because you form a relationship with these people. You try to be honest with them but also provide hope. It’s a slow process over two to three weeks, and you get to know the families who come in. It’s terrible."

Now that doctors know more about treatment options, Dr. Fallieras thinks back on the patients that might be alive still with that new medical knowledge. 

"It’s invigorating to feel useful and answer a call to duty, and to work towards exhaustion on something that is noble and necessary, but at the same time, it’s not easy," he says. "It can be quite sad."

Fallieras looks forward to the future, with less death and devastation from COVID-19, and looks forward to continuing his work towards addiction recovery medicine.

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Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist and content marketing writer, focusing on health and wellness, parenting, education, and lifestyle. She has been published in Glamour, Today’s Parent, Reader’s Digest, Parents, Women’s Health, and Business Insider. To read more of her work or to connect, check out her website.