The family of a top New York City doctor is heartbroken this week after she died by suicide over the weekend amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Lorna M. Breen, who served as the medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, died on Sunday at the age of 49 while staying with family in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” her father, Dr. Philip C. Breen told The New York Times. “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”
Charlottesville police responded to a call for someone in need of “medical assistance” on Sunday.
“The victim, identified as Dr. Lorna Breen, a resident of New York City, was taken to UVA Hospital for treatment where she later succumbed to self-inflicted injuries,” a press release from the Charlottesville Police Department read.
Prior to her death, Lorna had been treating coronavirus patients in New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the global pandemic.
When Lorna eventually contracted the illness herself, she was forced not to work. But after a week and a half of recovering, Phillip said his daughter attempted to return to her job, but the hospital sent her home.
That’s when her family intervened and opted to bring her to Charlottesville.
Although Lorna did not have a history of mental illness, her father tells the Times that she “seemed detached” the last time they spoke. She had described to him the traumatic sights she was witnessing, including the onslaught of patients who were dying before they could even be taken out of ambulances.
“She was truly in the trenches of the front line,” he explained to the Times.
Even while she was out of work, Lorna’s colleagues said she remained connected, taking a continued interest in their lives and safety.
“She was always the physician who was looking out for other people’s health and well-being,” said emergency medicine physician, Dr. Dara Kass.
In a statement, a NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital spokesperson said: “Words cannot convey the sense of loss we feel today. Dr. Breen is a hero who brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department.”
“Our focus today is to provide support to her family, friends, and colleagues as they cope with this news during what is already an extraordinarily difficult time,” the hospital added.
Dr. Lawrence A. Melniker, the vice-chair for quality care at the NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, said Lorna was “well-respected and well-liked” in the hospital.
“You don’t get to a position like that at Allen without being very talented,” he added.
As of Tuesday, more than one million people in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus, and the nation has seen 56,843 deaths in just six weeks, with New York leading the nation in casualties.
The pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on frontline healthcare professionals—both physically and mentally.
In a statement, Chief RaShall Brackney of Charlottesville Police Department spoke to the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the mental health of our health care professionals.
“Frontline healthcare professionals and first responders are not immune to the mental or physical effects of the current pandemic,” she said. “On a daily basis, these professionals operate under the most stressful of circumstances, and the Coronavirus has introduced additional stressors.”
“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can reduce the likelihood of being infected, but what they cannot protect heroes like Dr. Lorna Breen, or our first responders against is the emotional and mental devastation caused by this disease,” Brackney added.
When she wasn’t passionately saving lives, Lorna’s friends told the Times that she filled her time with hobbies, sports, and friends.
An avid member of the New York ski club, Lorna often traveled out west to ski and snowboard. She loved Jesus, and volunteered once a week at a home for older people.
Her colleagues say Lorna was a lively presence, outgoing and extroverted, and she loved people.
She loved being around friends and family, including her sisters and mother, who both lived in Virginia.
Our prayers are with her family, friends, and colleagues during this time.