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Stonington's Brittany Solar serving NYC's pediatric patients during coronavirus scare

When Brittany Solar takes the subway every day from the Upper West Side in Manhattan to the Inwood or Washington Heights stops to the northern part of New York City, where she is doctor at Pediatrics 2000, she rides with many others in the medical field — New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is also on that line.

But they don't talk.

"We're so far apart," she said.

Solar, a 2004 Stonington High School graduate and a member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame, says she's not on the front line, per se, in a city of 8.6 million people which has been crippled by the new coronavirus. She is a pediatrician, spending a good deal of her day on the phone, trying to assuage the worries of frightened parents, who have questions in regard to their children's health but are afraid to leave home.

And yet it seems that all of the medical profession is on the front line.

All of New York is on the front line.

"Honestly, I've been having colleagues from around different parts of the country, asking me, 'Is New York as bad as it is on the news?'" Solar said in a recent telephone conversation. "I think it is.

"Honestly, in this situation, there's 12 New Yorkers dying every hour. It's unbelievable, it's surreal. No one's on the streets. Everybody is affected. One of our staff's family members died. It's everywhere. And we haven't even hit the peak yet. I think it took a long time even for physicians to realize how bad it was."

Pediatrics 2000 was founded by Dr. Juan Tapia-Mendoza in 1992 and, according to the practice's web site, "was soon joined by a new generation of medical providers dedicated to working in underserved urban communities." There are two locations, which together serve more than 20,000 patients per year.

This is what brings Solar, 34, away from her husband Jonas and 17-month-old daughter Elisabet, nicknamed Lissa, every day, 120 blocks each way by subway.

"Our clinic is just bare bones right now," Solar said. "There have been some kids that have gotten very sick (with coronavirus); the vast majority of kids are OK. Half our job as outpatient pediatricians is keeping people out of the emergency room and urgent care. Reassuring care. Both parents are postal workers and they have it; what do they do? Do not leave the house. The parents are beyond panicking.

"At the beginning we were so inundated with patients. It flipped to nobody wants to leave the house. ... We're taking all the precautions we can."

***

Tiffany (Solar) MacCall, the eldest of Paulla and Neil Solar's three daughters, remembers that her sister was always interested in medicine.

"She first wanted to be a virologist," MacCall said. "We're all reading in high school. She's reading, 'Ebola, the outbreak.' I'm reading 'Huckleberry Finn.' She's reading about this virus saying, 'it's fascinating.' One hundred percent she talked about being (a doctor). When she went into med school, I went to the University of Texas to see her in med school, she took me to the place that has all the dead bodies.

"She's just excelling, excelling at something pretty much different than the entire family. ... She's not like me. That's what I love about her."

Solar competed in field hockey, basketball and track at Stonington, setting the program record for 3-point field goals while playing for her mom, Paulla, the school's longtime girls' basketball coach. She went on to graduate from Rhodes College in Memphis and completed medical school at the University of Texas at Houston.

She joined Pediatrics 2000 in 2015 after completing her pediatric residency at Mount Sinai Children's Hospital. An interest in global health has taken her to medical clinics in Haiti and to Cameroon, where she worked on a research project about mothers and their children with AIDS, also tending to the smallest patients at a hospital there.

She's had several inquiries: why not beat a hasty retreat out of New York right now?

Answer: that's not how Solar is wired, nor any doctor, really.

She speaks of a medical colleague in New York City who was infected with the coronavirus, spent five days in the hospital, went home for a 14-day quarantine and is now back to fighting the COVID-19 outbreak.

"I think that it is when we decided to go into health care we decided to go into health care," Solar said. "It's not just on a good day, not just when it's comfortable. We're going straight into the fire. This is what we do. We know it's a risk. There's a story about two medical residents that died; these are young people.

"It's desperate times. That's what we do. That's what we train for. We learn it all when we go through medical school. We adapt to different roles. Everybody's worried about their families. It's not really an option not to work. If I left, I would feel guilty. This is a vocation that we have."

The youngest of the Solars' three daughters, Kasey Hindinger, is also in medicine. She's a nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital. MacCall is a third-grade teacher at Juliet Long School in Ledyard, following both of her parents into education. All three women are giving back to the community.

"There's a lot of characteristics, a lot of things our parents instilled in us," MacCall said, "so that we can become these jobs and be good at them. Once you get the job, you have to be conscientious, hard-working, on-time, independent.

"There's a lot of things I think they instilled in us that made us have those good traits. ... We all have a good sense of empathy for people."

*** 

Solar and her husband and daughter have been taking walks together outside their Manhattan home, clad in masks. They live near Central Park and wherever they find an empty patch of green, they try to let Lissa have someplace to play other than in their small apartment.

And every night before Lissa goes to sleep, they go out on the rooftop of their building, keeping their distance from other residents but taking part in what has been a communal ritual. For two minutes or so, everyone screams, claps, or clatters pots and pans together in a tribute to those on the front line, including those in the health care profession.

"We cheer with everyone at 7. It's a nice little thing," Solar said. "I'm at the tiniest risk. I feel like I'm doing nothing. I'm at the 10th of the risk that these people are.

"Here in New York, it's in our backyard. It's in our soil. It's hard to separate yourself from it; it's all over the news. It's kind of permeated all aspects of our life."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Editor's note: This is the first story in an occasional series about former local athletes who went on to be part of the medical profession. 

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