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'Truest calling': Anderson answers COVID challenge

120 days ago
Auburn Athletics
Photo: Auburn Athletics

Jordan Anderson, a former swimmer at Auburn, is one of the numerous SEC alumni that is helping with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson was the recipient of the 2009-10 H. Boyd McWhorter SEC Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member and is a three-time Auburn Academic Top Tiger. He was a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and of the Chi Alpha Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Societies. Anderson was a part of the Auburn men's swimming & diving program that claimed the 2007 and 2009 National Championships.

The following story, written by Greg Ostendorf, was originally published on AuburnTigers.com.

AUBURN, Ala. - Jordan Anderson will never forget his first trip to Auburn. It was his official visit. His flight from Virginia to Atlanta was delayed, so he didn't get on campus until well after midnight. And on top of it, the airline lost his luggage.

It was on that trip, though, in 2005 when Anderson was first introduced to Auburn swimming and diving. At the time, the men's team was coming off a national championship. Both the men and women had won it all the year before that. A standard had been set, and on that particular weekend, he vividly remembers watching both teams go through this intense four-hour circuit training Saturday morning.

"It was just this incredible energy but also this incredible passion," Anderson said. "You could see in every person's eyes that they wanted to win a championship. They had this incredible confidence and this incredible strength they derived from one another, and I wanted to be a part of it. It was this transformational type moment.

"Going through those same experiences as a swimmer, it allowed me to see that I was capable of much more than I thought I was. And I think I've continued to carry that same type of excitement about new opportunities, new challenges throughout my life."

Over the last two months, Anderson has had to face a new challenge, a challenge he never expected to face. As an Internal Medicine resident physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, he has been on the front lines day in and day out fighting against the Coronavirus pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people across the world.

While at Auburn, Anderson was a part of two national championship teams - one as a freshman in 2007 and again in 2009, his junior year. He earned All-America honors as a member of the 400 medley relay squad at the 2009 NCAA Championships, and he also finished second individually in the 100 butterfly at the SEC Championships that same year.

More importantly, Anderson might not be doing what he's doing now - working on the COVID units in the hospital - if not for what transpired during the 2008-09 season.

Auburn head coach Richard Quick was diagnosed with brain cancer in December 2008. Anderson, who credits Quick for his development in and out of the pool, watched as his coach and their family battled this medical condition. The Tigers rallied behind Quick, winning the SEC and NCAA Championships that year, but Quick ultimately passed away three months later in June 2009.

"That experience was very powerful for me in terms of seeing someone that I was very close with, that I cared deeply for and who had a very impactful effect on my life go through a very difficult medical issue," Anderson said. "Seeing he and his family work through that, work with doctors - it really motivated me to want to do something like pursuing medicine to be able to help people in that way."

Anderson turned his focus to medicine where he found his calling in helping people.

In November 2009, he became Auburn's first Rhodes Scholar since 1980. After graduation, he spent two years at the University of Oxford in England on a graduate fellowship. He returned to the U.S. and worked with a healthcare startup before moving to Boston and beginning med school at Harvard Medical School. He graduated from there in 2018 and started work at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

At no part on his journey did Anderson ever envision he would be battling a global pandemic.

"It's a truly remarkable moment in history as everyone's aware," he said. "Being a physician or really any type of healthcare worker right now is just such an unbelievable moment in time."

When the Coronavirus first broke out in the U.S. in March, Anderson was on the second wave of staffing people. He worked from home, on call if there was a need, and continued to do patient outreach to his patients who were at home and could not go to the hospital.

In April, he transitioned to the hospital and worked in the non-COVID general medicine unit taking care of patients who were not COVID patients. He worked 12-hour shifts, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week. The paranoia was almost just as high working with the non-COVID patients because of the high rates of asymptomatic transmission and inaccurate testing results.

However, as of two weeks ago, Anderson moved over to one of the COVID ICUs, working directly with the COVID patients. He also moved to night shift, working 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

There's a fear that comes with his new role, but there's also a sense of responsibility.

"I think when you have other people who are relying on you and you have a skill set and an ability to help them, it's what you feel like you are called to do," Anderson said.

"What's really struck me about this moment, the Coronavirus pandemic moment, is that I think for a lot of healthcare workers there's this feeling that going back for years and years and years of preparation and training and education, we've all been prepared for a moment like this where our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors need us and they need us to be there for them.

"That's the truest calling of being a healthcare professional is to be there in times of need and to be there with patients when they're at their most vulnerable and when they really need help."

Though he might not have envisioned anything like this ever happening, it's not to say Anderson wasn't prepared for it. Beginning with that first trip to Auburn in 2005,which gave him a direction for his path, he's taken bits and pieces from various mentors and experiences along the way that shaped him into who he is today and gave him the mental and physical fortitude to fight this battle.

With the Coronavirus came a challenge unlike any the world has ever seen. But like he has done time and time again throughout his life, Anderson has responded to the challenge.

"This is a really scary moment for our country and for our world, but we're seeing people stepping up to the challenge and taking it and inspiring one another and inspiring others," Anderson said. "In many ways, at least for right now, that's the silver lining. It's that we're coming together.

"Amidst a very polarized world, we're coming together for one another."