Top N.Y.C. doctor on coronavirus ‘front lines’ dies by suicide

A top New York City doctor died by suicide on Sunday after weeks of caring for coronavirus patients.

Dr. Lorna Breen, medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan, died in Virginia. Tyler Hawn, a Charlottesville Police Department spokesperson, confirmed her death to NBC News.

Breen had been staying at her family’s home in Charlottesville. She was taken to UVA Hospital, where she died of self-inflicted injuries, Hawn said.

The 49-year-old’s father, Dr. Philip Breen, spoke openly about his daughter’s death to the New York Times, saying: “She tried to do her job, and it killed her.”

The younger Breen had returned to work after one and a half weeks of recuperating from COVID-19, but the hospital sent her home. That’s when her family intervened and brought her home with them.

She’d never suffered from mental illness, Philip told the New York Times, but had seemed “detached,” describing some of the horrors she’d witnessed working at the hospital during the pandemic.

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“She was truly in the trenches of the front line. Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was,” Philip said.

“She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”

New York has been hit especially hard by the virus, with more than 290,000 confirmed cases and 17,515 deaths as of Tuesday morning.

In a statement to NBC News, the hospital where Lorna worked 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.”

Police Chief RaShall Brackney of the Charlottesville Police Department said that front-line health-care workers “are not immune to the mental or physical effects of the current pandemic.”

She added that personal protective equipment (PPE) can protect from infection but “cannot protect heroes like Dr. Lorna Breen” against “the emotional and mental devastation caused by this disease.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts, Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868, and the Trans Lifeline 1-877-330-6366 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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