Dr. Angeli Maun Akey:
One Florida Doctor’s Early Action to Defeat COVID-19

When Dr. Angeli Maun Akey realized that her 6,000+ patient community needed a COVID-19 plan, she sprang into action. On a Facebook video posted March 16, Akey greeted her audience with assurance.

“Good morning. I’m Dr. Angeli Akey. I’m an internist and a member of this community since 1977. I’m the medical director of North Florida Integrative Medicine. I still want to take care of our patients.”

Akey, who is the president of the St. Gianna Guild of North Central Florida of the Catholic Medical Association, said that her motivation to serve her patients well during the coronavirus crisis led to a noticeable burst of energy and 80-hour work weeks. The only thing on her mind, she remembered, was the care of her patients, and the safety of her staff.

“I love my patients. I have been absolutely privileged to be with my patients for two decades for most of them — through graduations, weddings, babies, divorces, tragedies and joys. They have shared their most intimate secrets with me, some of which they have never told another human being. Love is the greatest force in the universe and when I would see the terror and fear in my patients’ eyes, I knew that we as a team had to move to alleviate that,” Akey said.

Her obstacle in those early days was the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE). Her first sick patient appointment was already scheduled when President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency on Friday, March 13.  Regardless of the PPE situation, she was determined not to cancel it. She prayed the “Flying Novena” made famous by St. Teresa of Calcutta, whose large picture hangs on the wall in Akey’s lobby. She recalls praying, “God, I’ve already booked a 7:30 a.m. on Monday and I have no PPE. I have no protection, please help.”

Akey said she had a good relationship with the mold remediation company in town, Dryer’s DKI, so she called them on Saturday and told them that she had no protective equipment. She asked them if they had any equipment she could use while taking care of potential COVID-19 patients. At 7 a.m. Monday morning, an employee of Dryer’s DKI showed up with something better than an N-95 mask.

“Mike showed up with a full hazmat suit and a full facemask — a level B hazmat suit!” Her prayer was answered. “I love my team — my staff and interns. I did not want them exposed or getting sick either.”

Akey said she knew that other doctors in emergency rooms were having a hard time finding any PPE, so she was grateful for the protective equipment that had been given to her. She told God that, in gratitude, she would stay outside with her assistant each morning to conduct drive-up evaluations. That is how she came to develop the Drive-Up Evaluations protocol, DUEs for short, to care for her patients.

DUEs protocol meant that she treated possible COVID-19 patients in their cars in the parking lot keeping them out of her office space to ensure the safety of her other patients and staff. She works with four other health care professionals and a support team of 20.  The DUEs protocol also kept patients out of urgent care and emergency rooms, as she says most COVID-19 patients can be managed at home.

“When you call,” Akey announced on Facebook, “if you have any respiratory symptoms, low grade fever, chills, shortness of breath, muscle aches, or just feeling unwell we’re actually going to examine you in your vehicle.”

By doing this type of screening, she had three COVID-19 positive swabs during the first two weeks. Those ill patients could have infected others in the office without the DUEs visit. All three were managed at home via telehealth and went on to recover well.

She also began sharing with and training other primary care doctors locally and nationally in the DUEs protocol hoping to help as many of her fellow health care professionals as possible.

In order to address the flood of questions she was receiving from her patients, she started her first weekly virtual town hall webinar on March 20 to help alleviate some of the anxiety and misinformation surrounding COVID-19. She has completed 15 webinars to date and says she will continue until the end of the pandemic. The webinars are livestreamed on Facebook every Friday from 3-4 p.m. at the FIRRIMup Doctors Facebook page.

Akey’s constant efforts to keep her patients and community safe resulted in a book that she co-authored with her teaching colleague, Dr. Kathleen O’Neil-Smith of Boston. Kick COVID-19 to the Curb is Akey’s third book. And, using engaging and nontechnical language, it provides information on the coronavirus and how to keep one’s immunity strong to fight it. The book also offers a guide for self-monitoring symptoms and suggests steps to take if one becomes sick. This resource book, written for a lay audience, can be found on Google Play or ordered at FIRRIMupDoctors.com.

Another notable mark of Akey’s medical practice is prayer. Akey credits the Catholic faith she received from her mother, who is also a physician, with giving her strength and the motivation during this time of global health crisis. She shares this faith freely with her staff and patients.

On Facebook, Akey shared the NFIM prayer to accompany proper handwashing techniques: “Remember, 20 seconds with soap is the most important thing, not 15 seconds. I actually pray our NFIM prayer, which goes like this, it’s 20 seconds… ‘Lord, we thank you for today. Be with us always Lord, we pray. Let us hear your words so clear, that we can perform this work with cheer. Protect the staff with your divine embrace, as we deliver your healing grace. Heal the patients through and through, and let them recognize it’s you.’”

During the pandemic, “we have all prayed this prayer and added Psalm 91 on March 21 after Fr. Albert Esposito, my pastor, came to the office to bless it and suggested that we pray Psalm 91. We have 12 people on the virtual team and 8-10 staff in the office every morning so we start the day off energized with prayer.”

For Akey, everything she does is grounded in faith.

“My practice is my way of evangelizing,” she said. “When I see patients, I try to remember what St. Faustina says, to be the ‘eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet of Jesus.’”