Minn. trooper's gesture during traffic stop brings doctor to tears

Trooper Brian Schwartz gave the doctor a handful of coveted N95 masks and thanked her for her life-saving work

Paul Walsh
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — A state trooper pulled over an East Coast doctor for speeding on an east-central Minnesota interstate, told her she should know better and sent her on way grateful for receiving only a warning and not a ticket.

The trooper also gave her a fistful of coveted N95 medical masks that were issued for his protection from the deadly and relentless coronavirus that has swept the globe.

Dr. Sarosh Ashraf Janjua shared the story of a Minnesota state trooper's generosity during a recent traffic stop. (Photo/Courtesy/Sarosh Ashraf Janjua)
Dr. Sarosh Ashraf Janjua shared the story of a Minnesota state trooper's generosity during a recent traffic stop. (Photo/Courtesy/Sarosh Ashraf Janjua)

"I burst into tears," Dr. Sarosh Ashraf Janjua, a Boston cardiologist, wrote in a detailed account of the traffic stop late in the afternoon of March 21 along Interstate 35 in North Branch. "I think he teared up a little as well before wishing me well and walking away."

The masks have been a persistent point of emphasis for many weeks among politicians, medical professionals and private industry as a vital — and all too scarce — tool in keeping health care providers safe from the virus as they try to fend off illness and death.

"Trooper [Brian] Schwartz said he noticed what appeared to be two used N95 masks in [her] purse that he assumed she was reusing," said the patrol's chief spokesman, Lt. Gordon Shank. "Trooper Schwartz said he heard there was a shortage of personal protective equipment and thought [the doctor] could use the extra masks."

Shank said Schwartz and his fellow troopers "are working hard during the pandemic and are thinking about all the first responders who are caring for Minnesotans during this critical time."

Janjua confirmed in her Facebook post that the shortage of N95 masks has left her "afraid of not having adequate protective equipment, and in my darkest moments, [I] have worried about what would happen if I fell sick far from home."

The doctor was more than 1,400 miles from Boston when Schwartz pulled her over for going 85 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone. Seeing her driver's license, he asked her what brought her all the way to Minnesota. She replied that she makes the trip monthly for work.

The trooper "quite firmly told me it was very irresponsible of me to be speeding," Janjua wrote on Facebook, "especially since I would not only take up resources if I got into an accident, but would also not be in a position to help patients."

The doctor said she felt the sting of his words, and "I waited for him to write me a ticket. Instead, he told me he was going to let me off with a warning."

As she struggled to apologize and thank the trooper, "he reached in to hand me what I assumed was my license back. It wasn't until my hand had closed around what he was giving me that its unexpected bulkiness drew my eyes to it. Five N95 masks, from the supply the state had given him for his protection."

This quiet gesture on a highway shoulder in small-town Minnesota left Janjua feeling hopeful amid widespread trepidation and uncertainty.

"This complete stranger, who owed me nothing and is more on the front lines than I am, shared his precious masks with me, without my even asking," she wrote. "The veil of civilization may be thin, but not all that lies behind it is savage. We are going to be OK."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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