By Catherine Harris
MARIETTA, Ga. – Former University of Georgia gymnast Kathy McMinn has grown accustomed to suiting up in full COVID-19 gear. The first four-year UGA All-American in any sport is now a Critical Care and Pulmonary Medicine doctor with the Wellstar Medical Group, treating the coronavirus on the frontlines.
The Weaver, Ala., native earned her doctoral degree from the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Medicine in 1989. McMinn was the 2008 recipient of the Bill Hartman Award, one of the highest honors given to a former UGA athlete. In 2009, McMinn was among six women and men selected to receive the prestigious NCAA Silver Anniversary Award. To recognize her excellence as a collegiate gymnast, McMinn was inducted into the 50th Anniversary Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
While McMinn has always had a passion for critical care medicine, the pandemic was much different than anything she had seen in her career. For her fellow doctors, physician assistants, nurses and respiratory therapists, support from the community validates the teamwork necessary for coping in a pandemic.
“I knew I was going straight to the coronavirus unit,” said Dr. McMinn. “I knew that it was going to be intense. We were very careful—it was a little bit intimidating initially, but I would say within three to four days we became a lot more comfortable with it. We had personal routines with how to respond and making sure when you went in you had a specific series – people watching and helping you.”
The former gymnast expressed the “wake-up call” COVID-19 forced on physicians and the nation in general.
“I think it has been a wakeup call for the community in general,” McMinn said. “Since I have been in medical school in the late 1980s, they have been telling us that we have pandemics every 75-100 years. This one is almost right on the nose of 100 years. Technically, as I understand, the first SARS and Ebola were technically pandemics but they didn’t really affect the United States. I think a lot of times we are protected because we have an ocean on each side. This thing was really a wakeup call for us.”
Comparing her gymnastics and medical career, McMinn spoke on the importance of how the two coincide with one another. McMinn relies on her medical team just as much as they rely on her.
“I would tell you being a part of the team with gymnastics or really any part of an athletic team absolutely feeds into it,’ McMinn said. “I think that is one of the reasons I am so drawn to critical care anyway because you get in there and you have your team. You know the people you can rely on and they know what to expect from you… Critical care has always been a team sport—even more so now.”
McMinn spoke on what continues to inspire her career and the dependence she has on those around her.
“I really think that is one of the things I love [about my job].” McMinn said. “Even before coronavirus came around, every critical patient that came rolling in—you have ten people in the room and they have a doctor or two, our physician’s assistant, nurse practitioners, five or six nurses and respiratory therapists, and every one of them is doing something different, and every one of those things needs to be done. It’s just amazing the amount of teamwork and coordination.”
McMinn says there have been significant advances in the treatments and overall care available to offset the virus. In addition, access to testing and research continues to grow each day, creating data to support the fight against the virus. When it comes to going forward, McMinn expresses the importance of wearing a mask and thinking of others, especially with the second wave of the infection on the horizon.
“There was a huge amount of planning that went into preparing for this,” McMinn said. “We now have a few more tools and have gotten to where we can look at a chest X-ray now and recognize [the presence of COVID-19]. All of this helps a lot. We have gotten pretty comfortable in our gear now, too.”
While McMinn recognizes the stresses and burdens COVID-19 has placed not only on herself and her colleagues, but on the nation as a whole, she does point out positives that have stemmed from the virus.
“I think it has realigned people’s priorities of what is important,” McMinn pointed out. “It has put a lot more of a focus on families because people are at home with families. It has also shown a great amount of support from our communities. Other than the negatives people continue to point out, I think it has brought out a lot of good in people.”