Dr. Ajay Lodha fought valiantly against COVID-19, both as a doctor and a patient.
The internist treated patients with COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic in March, said his son, Amit Lodha, adding that his father wore plastic trash bags on his body and paper towels on his face when personal protective equipment supplies ran low.
"He is someone who put his life on the line," his son said. "He was a COVID warrior, and more importantly, he encouraged others to be COVID warriors. He told others, ‘We’ve got to help. We’ve got to help.’ "
Ajay Lodha, a resident of Herricks, contracted COVID-19 and died on Nov. 21 from virus-related complications after an eight-month battle with the illness, his family said. He was 57.
"When he first went into the hospital, he told me, ‘I’m going to fight like a warrior,’ " said Dr. Suresh Reddy, a doctor in Chicago and close friend of Lodha. "That’s exactly what he did."
Lodha was born on May 4, 1963, and attended RNT Medical College in his hometown of Udaipur, India. There he met his wife, Smita, who also went on to become a doctor. They married in 1989 and moved as a couple to the United States the following year. He completed his residency at Flushing Hospital, his son said.
According to his family, Lodha was president of numerous organizations, including the Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), Rajasthan Association of North America (RANA), and RAJMAAI (Rajasthan Medical Alumni Association).
He was the founder and president of Queens Medical Services, a primary care practice since 1995, and was a partner in Hillaire (Huntington) and Nesconset nursing homes, his family said.
Lodha was a recipient of the Lawrence J. Scherr Award of Excellence for being an outstanding physician and was honored for outstanding contributions to the Research & Hypertension Department at Flushing Hospital. He won the Nargis Dutt Memorial Foundation Physician of the Year Award in 2008, according to his family.
He was also awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2016. The medal is "presented annually to those who have shown an outstanding commitment to serving the country either professionally, culturally or civically," according to the organization’s website.
Although Lodha had a decorated career, his final months may have been his most important. After helping COVID-19 patients for about a month, he was diagnosed with the illness in late March. He was one of the longest survivors on a ventilator, according to his son, and he received a double-lung transplant on July 28.
His son said he was told by medical professionals that his father was the second COVID-19 patient to receive a lung transplant, and his case helped further knowledge and opened treatment options for severe COVID patients.
Lodha helped about 15 family members, and countless others, to become doctors, according to his son — although Amit wasn’t one of them.
"I knew medicine wasn’t for me, and the family had enough doctors," joked Amit, 28, a data scientist. "But he told me that medicine wasn’t for everyone, and to go for what I loved."
Besides medicine, Lodha loved to travel and visited more than two dozen countries, his son said.
"When traveling together for conferences, he always gave me the bed, and he slept on the couch," said Reddy, who said he spoke to Lodha daily on their commutes into work. "He was a very down-to-earth person. He was highly educated but always humble. He treated all people, regardless of their background or place in life, the same. He always wanted to help others. He was just amazing."
In addition to his wife and son, Lodha is survived by his daughter, Shweta, of Herricks, and daughter-in-law, Priyanka, of Herricks; his parents Shyam and Vallabh of Hamden, Connecticut; his brother, Dr. Sanjay Lodha, and his wife, Dr. Anupama Lodha, of Herricks.
A funeral was held on Nov. 24. The family created a website (www.ajaylodha.family) where people can see more information about Lodha’s life, as well as posts and tributes about him.