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From athletic fields to medical field: Queensbury grads take on pandemic

From the Where Are They Now? A 2020 sports series series

As emergency room physicians, Drs. Andrew and Cara Sprague Bachman have found themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephanie Gengel, a registered nurse, has been addressing the pandemic shutdown from the mental-health side, working at Four Winds Hospital in Saratoga Springs.

Half a world away, Capt. Jordan Mandwelle is working as a medical operations officer in Kuwait as a member of the New York Army National Guard.

What they all have in common is they are former Queensbury High School athletes, who honed their abilities to meet challenges and work as part of a team on the Spartans’ playing fields.

They are just a few of the graduates of Queensbury and other area schools who have gone into the medical profession.

The Bachmans, M.D.

Few people have had to handle as much during the coronavirus pandemic than healthcare workers, especially emergency room workers, like the Bachmans.

Dr. Cara Sprague Bachman, 31 and an emergency room physician at Albany Medical Center, recalled the sense of concern being “heightened” during the early weeks of the pandemic, as the respiratory illness began to spread quickly downstate.

“Every patient who came in with chest pain or respiratory problems, you were wondering, ‘Is this the virus?’ she said.

“Fortunately it was not as bad here as it was in New York City, but anxiety levels were very high,” said Dr. Andrew Bachman, 33 and an emergency room physician at Glens Falls Hospital.

“It was difficult, especially at the beginning,” he added. “We looked to the critical care experts, we’re learning from people who have been in hotspots, and we’re still keeping an eye on things, especially in pediatrics.”

Some of the concern was for themselves”It was difficult, especially at the beginning,” Andrew said. “We looked to the critical care experts, we’re learning from people who have been in hotspots, and we’re still keeping an eye on things, especially in pediatrics.” and their loved ones.

“You have the fear of being an asymptomatic carrier,” Andrew said. “We have to show up every day, take it seriously, do what we have to, but when you leave, you wonder ‘Am I bringing it home to my family?’

“That’s why I change clothes in the garage after work,” he added with a laugh.

The couple, who just celebrated their second anniversary, resides in Albany — closer to Cara’s job because she is in her final year of residency at Albany Med.

“Both of our parents still live up in Queensbury, so he stays with his dad when he strings shifts together,” she said. “I have longer hours, so I won that argument. As a resident, I have to do some 24-hour shifts in the ICU, so it’s easier to go home in 10 minutes after a 24-hour shift.”

The Bachmans were both three-sport athletes at Queensbury. A 2005 graduate, Andrew Bachman played soccer, hockey and lacrosse, and went on to play lacrosse at Clarkson University. Cara Sprague Bachman, who graduated in 2007, ran cross country and track, and competed in cross-country skiing, and continued to do all three at Harvard.

Andrew majored in biology at Clarkson, but then pursued his medical degree through SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, graduating in 2014. He and Cara reconnected while they worked as ER techs at Glens Falls Hospital.

Cara said she had always had an interest in medicine — her mom, Gerri, was an RN at Glens Falls Hospital — but ended up going into healthcare policy and working in Washington, D.C., after college. However, she soon reconsidered her choice — “It wasn’t the career I thought it would be,” she said — and decided to go to med school when she and Andrew were dating.

Both Bachmans gravitated to the action of the emergency room, where working under stress in actual life-and-death situations is part of the daily life of an ER doctor.

“I really like the pace — it’s the most like an athletic game: the sirens, the chaos, it’s like an arena,” Andrew said. “You have on-the-spot decision-making and the challenge of that, and the ability to work with many people as a team. It does feel like a team — you have to know when to ask for help, when to pass the ball. Having played team sports, that translated well.”

The lessons borne of competition remain with both.

Andrew grew up next door to former Queensbury boys lacrosse coach Keith Ellement and his sons, Matt and Jon, who went on to play college lacrosse.

“Coach Ellement always said, ‘Be the best’ — and he wasn’t only talking about sports,” Andrew said. “He meant ‘give your full dedication to everything you’re doing,’ whether it’s athletics, academics, being a husband, or patient care as a doctor — put your best foot forward and be a professional.”

Cara likened the pacing of long shifts in the ER and long stretches of studying for exams to her distance training.

“Overall, for me getting through four years of med school and three years of residency with nine-hour shifts — it’s like a marathon sometimes, but right in the middle of that there’s a speed workout,” she said. “We’ll suddenly get a bolus (quick influx) of sick people all at once, so you’re running from room to room.”

Andrew called his wife “the athlete of the family,” as Cara still competes in marathons and Iron Man marathons.

“I beat her on a technicality in a half-Iron Man last summer,” Andrew said.

Cara said she had been training to run the Boston Marathon again this year, but it was canceled.

“My sister Erin and I are very competitive,” Cara said. “She still holds one of the fastest times in cross country at Saratoga state park, but I broke all of her records. I think I still hold the 800 record.”

Stephanie Gengel, RN

Stephanie Gengel said she developed a love for pediatric psychological health care while doing her clinicals.

“It’s a chance to reach one of the most vulnerable populations,” said the 2014 Queensbury graduate, a former three-sport athlete.

Four Winds provides in-patient and out-patient mental health services for children, adolescents and adults. The in-patient unit that Gengel works in helps children ages 4-12. Those kids have faced a whole new set of challenges with the coronavirus pandemic that closed schools for the final three months of the school year.

“There has been a lot of anxiety and depression in the general population, and that impacts kids, too,” Gengel said. “And without the school system, it’s really been difficult for them.”

She said the children she works with have done pretty well, all things considered.

“They’ve been doing OK, but it’s been difficult for their families having them home during the pandemic,” Gengel said. “These are kids who struggle in school, and not being able to have the resources like school counselors and psychologists has made it difficult for these families.”

As an RN in psychiatric care, Gengel said her team’s job is to “address not only their psychological needs, but the health needs of children and managing the whole mood of the unit.”

At Queensbury, Gengel competed in volleyball, cross-country skiing and track. She won a state team championship with the Spartans in skiing and played volleyball at SUNY Adirondack.

“I’m still very close to all those girls,” Gengel said of her state Nordic ski championship. “I loved being part of a team, I really miss it.”

However, she said being a nurse at Four Winds is “all about teamwork.”

“A lot of the lessons that my coaches taught me, I find myself imparting to the kids I work with — how to work with others, how to practice good sportsmanship,” Gengel said. “I use those lessons every single day. It’s so important to teach that to kids at a young age.”

Capt. Jordan Mandwelle

Capt. Jordan Mandwelle did not have to look far for inspiration when he considered joining the military: his mother, Tammie, spent 32 years in the New York Army National Guard and served in Iraq.

“If I am only half the officer she was, that will be a good career,” Mandwelle said via email from Kuwait, where he serves in the 42nd Infantry.

As a medical operations officer, Mandwelle is part of the planning for the medical support of their mission. Just as soldiers go into battle and use written orders from headquarters to accomplish their mission, he said, medical personnel provide the support for all personnel connected to that mission.

“In conjunction with my great team here in Kuwait,” he said, “I write the medical portion of those ‘higher headquarters’ orders to provide direction to those providing care to soldiers so that we can maintain a fit and healthy force.”

Mandwelle said he works 6 feet away from longtime Granville wrestling coach Steve Palmer, a Sergeant Major in the New York Army National Guard, who also deployed this year.

“He was my First Sergeant in the very first company I was ever a part of in 2014,” Mandwelle said.

A 2010 Queensbury graduate, Mandwelle was a lacrosse standout for the Spartans, playing for coach Adam Orr for four years.

“High school sports were invaluable for me as a young person,” he said. “Working your butt off with your teammates, winning and losing — it all translates to the real world in some form or fashion. It also instills discipline at an early age when you might not have otherwise been exposed to it. Being put in positions where you might fail, but continue to learn and grow as a person, has paid dividends for me during my career. I owe coaches Keith Ellement and Adam Orr a lot for guiding me during those experiences.”

Mandwelle said he always wanted to do something in public service, and chose to go to Syracuse University on an ROTC scholarship. He majored in biology and upon graduation in 2014, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the New York Army National Guard Medical Service Corps.

As a civilian, Mandwelle worked for a laboratory in Latham, but in 2016, he was selected to become a full-time officer at Joint Task Force Empire Shield in New York City. He served several roles, including Task Force operations officer, before being selected as company commander at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. And then an even bigger opportunity arose.

“I was only 3 months into my new role as company commander when I was approached and asked to fulfill an important vacancy as medical planner for the 42 Infantry Division on their deployment to the Middle East,” Mandwelle said. “After discussing with my fiancée and consulting with my commander at JTF-ES, we knew that deploying was the difficult but necessary choice I had to make.”

Mandwelle said one of the keys to medical planning is flexibility, something everyone in the medial profession quickly learned about the coronavirus pandemic, including the military.

“When I arrived in Kuwait, it was at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “The Army was no exception to the logistical needs and resource requirements that the rest of the world was facing. Your ability to plan, prepare, execute, and assess effectively is never more important than it is during a global pandemic. Although it is stressful and frustrating at times, knowing that the guidance we generate is assisting our medical professionals do their job is all that matters.”

Mandwelle still recalls the lessons he learned playing sports and how they apply to his career, particularly discipline and focusing on the task at hand, and not getting too high or low over situations.

“Celebration can be just as much a distraction as moping after a loss,” he said. “Take a brief moment to enjoy a win and do what you need to in order to learn from a loss, but after that it is time to move on.

“The ‘game’ is bigger than you and you cannot support your teammates fully if you are distracted,” Mandwelle added. “During my time at JTF-ES and now as I serve overseas, I can see just how important it is to not only maintain my bearing, but to refocus others when they are out of sorts.”

Follow Pete Tobey on Twitter @PTobeyPSVarsity.


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Covering high school and minor-league sports in Section II since 1989. SUNY Plattsburgh grad. Colleen's lesser half. Three amazing young people call me Dad. Fan of Philadelphia Eagles, New York Rangers and Mets, and Syracuse Orange.

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