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NYC Emergency Room Physician Who Treated Coronavirus Patients Dies By Suicide

As the COVID-19 pandemic besieged New York City, Dr. Lorna Breen was on the front lines, striving to slow the onslaught of critically ill patients that have made the city the center of the outbreak in the U.S.

Breen continued her work at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital as medical director of the emergency department even after she too contracted, then recovered from, the virus.

On Sunday, the woman many regard as a hero died of self-inflicted injuries, according to police. Her family later spoke publicly about Breen's death.

"She tried to do her job and it killed her," Dr. Philip Breen, who is also a doctor, said about his daughter in an interviewwith The New York Times.

Although Breen had recovered from the coronavirus and returned to work after about a week and half, the 49-year-old was sent back home by hospital officials. That's when her father says the family intervened, taking her to Charlottesville, Va.

While Breen was with him, she described tragic scenes of devastation wrought by the disease, recalling how some patients died before they could be carried out of ambulances, her father told the newspaper.

"She was truly in the trenches of the front line," he said, adding that his daughter did not have a history of mental illness.

"Make sure she's praised as a hero, because she was. She's a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died," he said.

The Charlottesville Police Department, which initially responded to calls for medical assistance, said Breen was treated at UVA Hospital, "where she later succumbed to self-inflicted injuries."

"Frontline healthcare professionals and first responders are not immune to the mental or physical effects of the current pandemic," Police Chief RaShall Brackney said in a statement. "On a daily basis, these professionals operate under the most stressful of circumstances, and the Coronavirus has introduced additional stressors."

"Personal Protective Equipment 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.

New York City has been ravaged by COVID-19 more than anywhere else in the U.S. As of Tuesday, more than 17,500 people have died there as a result of the contagious disease, and the city has confirmed more than 160,000 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Many of Breen's friends and colleagues are now trying to process the well-liked doctor's death.

Dr. Paris Lovett, an emergency physician, posted a picture on Facebook showing himself next to Breen, who's beaming in the photo.

"Lorna Breen – a great emergency physician, great person and great friend. I will miss you so much," Lovett wrote.

Dr. Cerrah Mendelsohn-Elzam responded to Lovett's post by writing, "She was a role model and supporter of all us female residents. Always lighting up the room with her bright smile."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.

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