"I get to take care of all the people on life support."
Dr. Rich Sellman, Alpha Upsilon 1987,
new recipient of Sigma Chi's
"Pandemic Responder" pin
“Just two nights ago someone perished on life support,” said Dr. Rich Sellman, Alpha Upsilon 1987. He's seen here in the ICU at his hospital in Montana. Sellman has been recognized by Sigma Chi.
Fighting Covid in the ICU: This Sig doctor is a living lesson for his two Sig sons
Dr. Rich Sellman continues fighting the good fight against the Covid-19 pandemic 16 months after it began. And his two Sigma Chi sons are learning what character is through their father’s dedication.
Sellman (AU 1987) is a physician in a hospital Intensive Care Unit with too many Covid-19 patients fighting to stay alive. “I get to take care of all the people on life support,” he says with a matter-of-fact tone.
“Just two nights ago someone perished on life support.”
So much loss of life can take a toll on a professional whose own life is dedicated to keeping patients alive.
In this light, the Sigma Chi Fraternity has awarded Dr. Sellman with the “Sigma Chi Pandemic Responders” pin recognizing his “meaningful contribution to the worldwide effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. The selfless service of these brothers to the greater good of society brings honor to the name of Sigma Chi.”
Even as vaccinations are bringing the pandemic down, Dr. Sellman struggles with a distinct new kind of personal sorrow: Dr. Sellman’s job is not to question why any new patient chose not to be vaccinated, but to fight to save every life.
Dr. Sellman works in St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana. He is aware that it has been even worse in big city hospitals and population centers where the virus has run rampant. Montana’s pandemic matched the Big Sky Country’s sparse, spread out population. “We were lucky we didn’t get hit with huge numbers like metropolitan areas did.”
Still, his team has just eight people to care for all those on life support. They work double shifts. A lot.
Early in the pandemic while the medical community was still learning how to navigate Covid-19, health care providers were at great risk themselves. While trying to treat others, they often contracted the virus. Many died.
He has spoken with his sons about his daunting, life-saving work.
Thomas is an undergraduate Sig from Beta Rho at Montana State in Bozeman. He’ll graduate this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering and an aerospace engineering minor. “He’s the one that made me want to be a Sig at MSU,” Thomas says admiringly of his dad. ”He even pinned me the day I became one.”
Dr. Rich Sellman, left, and his Alpha Upsilon son Stephen, 2019.
IN THE ALPHA UPSILON BACKYARD. Left to right: Thomas (Sig from Montana State), Christopher (Sigma Nu from Cal Poly where they had no Sig house), Rich (dad, in Fight On shirt), Stephen (Sig from Alpha Upsilon) and daughter Allison.
Stephen is a Sig from Alpha Upsilon and graduated in 2019. “It’s great,” he says about his dad’s work. An important lesson he’s learned about his dad’s lifesaving career? “It’s meaningful.” Stephen says they’ve spoken about the risk he has faced but “I’ve never once worried.” He says he has confidence that his father knows what he’s doing and will be cautious. “It’s part of what signing up to be a doctor is.”
Rich vividly remembers surprising his son at initiation at AU, then pinning his son’s White Cross badge on him.
He implored both his sons, “you cannot join because I’m a Sigma Chi. Find where your soul is best suited.” It worked out well.
Dr. Sellman has a third son, Christopher, who attended Cal Poly where, alas, they did not have a Sig house. He went Sigma Nu (but he loves him just as much).
The family is especially enhanced with three magnificent daughters who must put up with all that Sigma Chi stuff. Allison is a 2015 University of Oregon grad, Emma is a newly minted graduate at the University of Mississippi, and Sophia will graduate from the University of Montana in 2024.
Rich stays in touch with a bunch of his pledge brothers. They even have a text chat constantly going. And he gets to USC at least once a year for a football game and to see the house.
He reflects again on patients who enter the ICU with Covid-19. “If they’re on life support, they have a 50-50 chance they’re not going to make it,” he says. If they already have some medical complications? “Their risk of perishing is really high.”
As the next Covid-19 patient enters his ICU, he works as hard as ever to save his patient’s life. Dr. Sellman’s work is not done yet.
Infections show no serious symptoms
Pandemic putting crimp on fraternity life,
but 'we'll get through it,' says Consul
Under the cloud of Covid-19, the Alpha Upsilon undergrads are hanging in there.
The 2020 global pandemic is impacting nearly every aspect of life at fraternities everywhere, including at USC, and is now spilling into 2021.
A lot has been moved to zoom, of course, including classes, rush and non-ritual chapter meetings. Going to sporting events is not an option. Social events, including all sorority mixers and exchanges, have been cancelled.
Initiation ceremonies across all Sigma Chi chapters were specially designed by headquarters, called “temporary founders initiation,” to officially turn candidates into brothers but the full ritual is reserved for later. To follow Covid protocols, one candidate was initiated at a time.
The brothers chose a new Sweetheart virtually. Annie Bair, Delta Gamma, was chosen in May during an online competition. The brothers hope to hold a formal Sweetheart Ball after the pandemic wanes.
The biggest impact may be diminished time simply hanging out with each other.
Alpha Upsilon 2020-21 Consul Cooper Allen says, frankly, he doesn’t have a lot of good things to report about the situation. But he says the chapter has a good attitude about it and vows that “we’ll get through it.”
“Being located in one of the worst possible areas in terms of COVID outbreaks,” Coop says, “we were met by harsh policies and an unforgiving administration as we returned to campus this fall.” (Read his Consul’s Column here).
The chapter chose to follow an aggressive set of Covid protocols to manage the virus. “Having set the standard on the row for what it means to be a successful fraternity during a pandemic, I have all the faith in the world that we are in for round two of progression and prosperity in the spring, as well as a triumphant future in general.”
Nationally, fraternities became known as irresponsible super-spreaders. But, as is often the case, the spotlight was shown on outliers and did not accurately depict most fraternities, including AU, that made tremendous and genuine efforts to keep tabs on the virus.
Testing on campus is free and frequent. Coop reports that antibody tests show most of the undergraduate brothers had already had the virus well before arriving for the school year last summer. The few guys who did not, got the virus later, he says. But Coop says there have been absolutely no significant symptoms whatsoever. In fact, most guys never knew they had it. And many guys took extra precautions when returning home to their families and friends during semester break.
College-aged healthy men are at the lower end of the vaccination priority list. So, the undergraduate brothers are bracing for a long wait. Now the concern is whether vaccinations will be widespread in time for fall semester 2021 or whether life under Covid-19 will continue to disrupt life at Alpha Upsilon.
Even though new research suggests it is highly unlikely someone can become infected a second time, less is known about whether someone with immunity can continue to pass the virus to others.
2020-21 Consul Cooper Allen says anti body tests suggest that most AU brothers had already acquired Covid-19 and fully recovered before they even arrived for the start of the school year. Not one brother reported any serious symptoms whatsoever.
Sigma Chi headquarters offering wide variety of Covid guidance