'Brave, compassionate and dedicated': ER doctor who treated coronavirus patients dies by suicide
An emergency room doctor in Manhattan who treated coronavirus patients died by suicide Sunday, police said.
Dr. Lorna Breen, 49, the medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, was staying with family in Charlottesville, Virginia.
City police responded to a call for medical assistance and took Breen to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where she died after suffering self-inflicted injuries, police said.
Breen's father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, told the New York Times that his daughter "tried to do her job, and it killed her."
Police officials said the emotional toll of her job in recent months is at least partly to blame.
"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," Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney said in a statement.
Breen's father told the Times that his daughter had described devastating scenes of the toll the coronavirus took on patients. She had contracted the coronavirus but returned to work after about a week and a half, Breen told the Times. When the hospital sent her home, Breen's family brought her to Charlottesville.
Breen's father told the Times that she did not have a history of mental illness. The last time he spoke with her, Breen had seemed detached, he told the Times.
Philip Breen has not responded to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
Abby Siegel, a friend of 10 years, told USA TODAY in a message that Breen "brought devotion and compassion to all areas of her life." She cared about her family, friends and religion. She was a snowboarder, an accomplished cellist and a member of the New York City salsa community. And she was due to receive an MBA from Cornell University, her undergraduate alma mater, next year, Siegel said.
"I was in awe that she could juggle being a full-time ER doctor and a demanding graduate school curriculum. Her smile was radiant and she lit up every room I'd ever been in with her."
Breen saved lives outside the ER, too. In 2013, Breen was with her ski group running to catch a flight in the Denver airport when she heard someone cry for help and jumped over the people mover railing to assist a man who had gone unconscious, Siegel said.
"She literally resuscitated this man right there and then and saved his life!" Siegel said. "We begged the flight attendants to hold the flight for her, and when she got on the plane we all clapped and cheered for her. Lorna was so brave, compassionate and dedicated in her position as a doctor."
Breen will be deeply missed, Siegel said.
"Words cannot convey the sense of loss we feel today," Columbia University Irving Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian said in a statement. "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."
New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital is on the northern tip of Manhattan.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or find the online Lifeline Chat chat here.
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