ANAHEIM, Calif. – Dr. Fariborz Shams always told himself he would follow an unwritten rule that doctors practiced, which is to never treat a family member or a close friend. However, Shams soon discovered that even this rule can be broken during the age of COVID-19.

What You Need To Know

  • Dr. Fariborz Shams and his patient first met 25 years ago at a gym

  • The longtime friends reconnected after Dr. Shams treated him for COVID-19

  • Ruben Mata is a fitness trainer and motivational speaker who travels the world

  • Mata donated his plasma for COVID-19 research

“I came in the morning and got my list of the patients that came in last night and saw Ruben Mata,” said Dr. Shams, an internist at West Anaheim Medical Center.

Dr. Shams was on-call when Ruben Mata, his friend of 25 years, was admitted into West Anaheim Medical Center for pneumonia and eventually tested positive for COVID-19.

“When I saw him, I said ‘Oh my gosh.’ This is the patient. This is my friend and that’s just heartbreaking,” said Dr. Shams.

Dr. Shams and Mata became friends 25 years ago after they first met at a gym. They worked out together five mornings a week before Dr. Shams started his shifts at the hospital.

“That’s when I had to put that aside. You know what, forget about being your friend, forget about knowing him before. This is your patient now. You have to take care of your patient just like you’re doing with other people,” said Dr. Shams.

Mata is a 52-year-old fitness trainer and motivational speaker. He travels the United States and to other countries to inspire people to become better versions of themselves. He says he developed a week-long fever before his taste buds stopped working.

“All of a sudden I started getting a cough, then shortness of breath. This is not normal. Usually I can just work it out,” said Mata.

Mata says at one point, the hospital staff called his sister to let his family know that he might not make it through the night.

Determined to keep fighting for his patient, Dr. Shams and his team monitored Mata and even prayed for him. After six days in the hospital, Mata recovered and became the first COVID-19 survivor at West Anaheim Medical Center.

Last week, Mata began paying it forward by donating his plasma for COVID-19 research.

Dr. Shams says the coronavirus has changed the practice of medicine. It’s adding new layers of physical and emotional stress for health care providers. However, it is cases like Mata’s that give Dr. Shams and his team the energy to keep fighting.

Dr. Shams is humbled to be a part of West Anaheim Medical Center. He credits Mata’s recovery to God, his residency staff, nurses, and everyone working at the hospital.