POLAND — Just weeks after COVID-19 struck Maine in mid-March, Dr. Charles Foley was packing his bags to go serve his country.

Sheila Foley dropped her husband, Charles Foley, off at Fort Devens in Massachusetts in March 2020. He treated COVID-19 patients in New York City as part of a U.S. Army Reserve effort while she ran their Poland farm with their two boys. Submitted photo

On March 31, the 57-year-old plastic surgeon who owns a farm with his wife was deployed by the U.S. Army Reserve to the epicenter of this country’s pandemic in New York City, where he served in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

For the next two months, he treated patients stricken with the novel coronavirus as the hospital struggled to keep up with its growing number of cases. Many of the providers at the hospital were out sick from the virus, leaving the hospital short-staffed, he said.

“Some of them were fairly sick, so it took awhile for them to come back,” he said. The hospital was “overwhelmed with the number of patients; they didn’t have enough physicians to cover the number of patients that we were getting.”

The fatigued and overworked hospital staff welcomed the relief Foley and other medical personnel from the Army Reserve provided.

“The people were very sick, so it made it challenging to try and come up with techniques, methods and medications to make them better” early on in the pandemic, he said. “It was sort of a challenge on a case-by-case basis because everybody was reacting differently to the virus.”

Foley said he found it interesting to work in a different medical capacity than the usual surgical role he assumed at Central Maine Medical Center back in Lewiston, where he worked largely with trauma patients suffering from facial fractures and cancer patients in need of reconstructive plastic surgery.

At the time he was deployed to New York, CMMC had postponed elective surgeries in preparation for a possible onslaught of COVID-19 patients, he said.

After his return to Maine, the Lewiston hospital began again to schedule those surgeries, fewer at first, but allowing him back into the operating room, where he has remained since, he said.

Sheila Foley, right, and her sons, Sam and Andrew, walk out to tend the cows on the family farm in Poland in March 2020. They three were taking care of the farm while her husband, Charles, a surgeon, joined his U.S. Army Reserve unit to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

At Attwood Farm and Kitchen, where Foley and his wife raise cattle, sheep and chickens, Foley had shipped out two weeks after the start of lambing season, but was able to help out with the bottle feedings when he got back.

“Sheila did an awesome job” in his absence, he said.

Her two teenage sons were able to help out at the farm because younger son Andrew’s high school classes had moved online only, while older son Sam, who’d graduated and planned to move to South America, had to postpone his plans after international flights were grounded, she said.

“They were absolutely tremendous,” she said. “There’s no way I could have done all of it without them.”

One silver lining from the pandemic was a sudden and sustained need within the community for fresh farm produce, eggs and baked goods that customers couldn’t find at the local supermarket or were reluctant to visit for fear of risking infection.

The Foleys allowed customers to make contact-free purchases by picking up their items from the front porch.

Their farmstand business grew roughly seven times what they had anticipated since starting up in September 2019, she said.

“It just absolutely went nuts,” she said.

She said the community support for local businesses like hers during the pandemic has been gratifying.

“I am so blown away by the people in my town and the neighboring towns that just wanted to come here and support us,” she said.


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