US hospitals have lost dozens of medical workers to Covid-19. Here are some of their stories
- More than two dozen US healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic have died from the coronavirus.
- Many doctors, nurses, EMTs, and medical support staff members had been forced to reuse their personal protective equipment during their shifts, making them especially susceptible to the virus.
- Business Insider wanted to share the stories of some of those who gave their lives in the line of duty.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
While most Americans are confined to their homes amidst state and city-wide lockdowns, healthcare workers continue to live on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past two months, more than 9,000 US healthcare workers have contracted the coronavirus, according to an April report from the Center for Disease Control.
The vast majority of healthcare workers reported that their symptoms were mild, but several hundred had cases serious enough to warrant a hospital stay, and at least 27 US healthcare workers have died from the disease.
The number reported by the CDC is likely incomplete. Earlier this month, the National Nurses United union reported that at least 48 nurses have died from the coronavirus.
Worldwide, the number of healthcare workers who have succumbed to coronavirus exceeds 100. Medical centres around the country - and around the world - continue to report they lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staff, and many have resorted to using rain ponchos, and even garbage bags to protect themselves.
Business Insider has reached out to the friends and family of the doctors, nurses, and support staff who contracted and died from the disease while trying to save others.
Here are the stories of some of the unsung healthcare heroes who lost their lives during the Covid-19 global crisis.
Mammogram Technician Diedre Lyjettie Heard Wilkes, 42, died on 19 March. She worked at Piedmont Newnan Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
Diedre Heard Wilkes was a devout Christian who brought joy to those she worked with.
A graduate of West Georgia Technical College, Wilkes received her Associate Degree in Radiology Technology, according to her obituary.
She was a mammogram technician at Piedmont Newnan Hospital in Atlanta.
"Deidre was my work daughter, whom I loved dearly. She brought me such joy in watching her professional commitment, her love of God, her commitment to family, her desire to live life to its fullest," Cat Thompson wrote of her colleague. "I am fully blessed to have known such a person who proved to me that her generation is full of individuals who are not afraid of hard work and still believed Sunday was a day to honor God."
Wilkes, who was remembered as a kind and gentle spirit, has two children, Quintero and Khloe.
She died at her home and a posthumous test came back positive for Covid-19, the local coroner told ABC News.
One of her children was at home when she died.
Attempts to reach several of Wilkes' family members and friends were unsuccessful.
"I love you and miss you so much my beautiful sister. It feels as if I have been stuck in a twilight zone since March 19th," Wilkes' sister LaSonya Heard wrote on her memorial page. "I am so thankful for the amazing relationship that we had as siblings."
Nurse Judy Wilson-Griffin died on 20 March. She worked at St. Mary's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.
Maternal mortality rates in Missouri are among the worst in America, especially for black women.
Judy Wilson-Griffin, a perinatal clinical nurse specialist at SSM Health-St. Mary's Hospital-St. Louis, dedicated her career to making pregnancy safer for expectant mothers.
Laura Kuensting, Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, remembered Wilson-Griffin as a passionate advocate for evidence-based care. She had practiced nursing for 30 years before enrolling in the DNP program in 2017.
"Judy did not view her role in nursing as a career," Kuensting wrote in a tribute to Wilson-Griffin on the university's website. "She viewed perinatal nursing as her life's work. Judy was motivated to keep moving forward, achieving excellence and making a difference. She was revered as an expert in perinatal nursing at the local, state, and national levels."
Kuensting said that she remembered when Wilson-Griffin finished the social determinants of health tour of St. Louis, designed to expose students to health disparities among low-income and predominantly black communities.
"I remember her making comments to me of how impactful that was," Kuensting wrote. "Being a black nurse herself and overcoming adversities and implicit biases throughout her career, she could relate. She was driven to change the maternal and infant mortality for African-American women in the St. Louis area."
When Wilson-Griffin learned that maternal transport teams - which transport pregnant people to the hospital by air or ambulance - reduce deaths, she established the first program in the state at Barnes Hospital and later another St. Mary's, according to the University.
Before she died, she was working on instituting a Maternal Fetal Triage Index, an evidence-based assessment for pregnant women, at the hospital.
Wilson-Griffin was the first Covid-19 patient to die in St. Louis.
"The nursing profession, and particularly the perinatal nursing specialty, have greatly benefited from Judy's work," Kuensting wrote. "Her leadership persevered through the times when she was told, 'That's not the way we've always done it.' She was a mentor and a preceptor to countless numbers of nursing and medical students, colleagues, and coworkers. She was motivated and determined to deliver the best care to pregnant women."
Kious Kelly, 48, died on 21 March. He worked at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York.
Kious Kelly could always sense when someone in the room was feeling down and would do anything in his power to make it right, his sister Marya Patrice Sherron, told Business Insider.
That's why it didn't surprise Sherron to learn that her brother had gone without protective equipment at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City so others didn't have to. Medical workers at Mt. Sinai complained of a lack of PPE and had resorted to using garbage bags as protective gear.
"Of course he shouldn't have been in that position, but I know he would," Sherron said. "That's the kind of person he was."
Kelly, who grew up in Lansing, Michigan, had a career as a professional dancer before entering nursing school about 10 years ago, his sister said.
As his dancing career wound down, he wanted to transition into a profession where he could help people. He was accepted to New York University and finished his nursing program in two years, his sister said.
At Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, he was a lead nurse during the weekdays and also managed weekend shifts.
Sherron said that in the days since her brother's death, she has been hearing about the small acts of kindness he carried out on the job.
One colleague told Sherron that during a chaotic shift during the winter a man who was homeless at the time wouldn't leave the emergency room because he was cold. Kelly, she learned, took his jacket off to give to the man.
"That kind of story kind of epitomises who he was. That's not unique," she said. "Everything was expendable. It didn't matter if he could help someone else."
Dr. Frank Gabrin, 60, died on March 31. He worked at hospitals in New Jersey and New York City.
Frank Gabin dedicated his life to emergency medicine. It wasn't until a few years ago that he started thinking seriously about having a family.
At the time of his death, he and his husband Arnold Vargas had been planning to have children, Gabrin's best friend Debra Vasalech told BI.
"They hadn't even been married a year," said Vasalech, who was a guest at the couple's August wedding. "They were already doing the work to have children. They were planning to move to Florida over the next few years to raise the kids."
Six days after becoming symptomatic in March, Gabrin woke up at his New York apartment struggling to breathe. Vargas called 911 and got Vasalech on speakerphone.
In the 30 minutes it took for paramedics to arrive, Gabrin died in his husband's arms, Vasalech said. Vargas has also tested positive and is still quarantined at their home.
Gabrin, who started his career in emergency medicine as a Navy doctor, had survived cancer twice, his best friend said.
After that, he overcame addiction issues related to professional burnout. Gabrin channelled his experience into the book Back from Burnout,which offered advice to other medical professionals about compassion fatigue.
"He discovered how compassion was what was missing in medicine," said Vasalech, who helped Gabrin with the book. "He believed that people in emergency medicine were born with the need to care for people."
Vasalech said that her best friend wasn't worried about working on the frontlines at first because he had the equipment he needed. But when that equipment ran short, he felt danger approaching.
"The moment that happened, he got nervous," Vasalech said. "He was going out getting aloe vera plant to make his own hand sanitizer."
Nurse Araceli Buendia Ilagan, 63, died on 27 March. She worked in the surgical ICU at Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida.
Aracelli Buendia Ilagan left her home in the Philippines when she was in her 20s to work as a nurse in the United States.
Even though she was thousands of kilometres away from her family, she was dedicated to maintaining close relationships and supporting them in tough times.
"She's very thoughtful to her family," her niece, Jhoanna Mariel Buendia told BI. "We cannot accept that nobody was there to help her when she was suffering. We feel very helpless, we didn't get the chance to speak to her during her most difficult times."
Ilagan had been a nurse manager in the surgical ICU at Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida for 30 years.
Buendia said that her aunt had self-quarantined after she started experiencing coronavirus symptoms. When her husband went in to check on her on March 28, he found her unresponsive on the floor, her niece said. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful.
Buendia, who is 27 and working in an ICU in the UK, said that her aunt "groomed her" to become a nurse and has been her mentor.
Having no children of her own, Ilagan shared a special bond with Buendia, according to the young nurse.
"I actually have two aunts whose profession is nursing," said Buendia, who is an ICU nurse in the UK. "They always told me that helping other people is one of the best feelings."
A few days before her death, Ilagan and Buendia spoke on the phone.
Ilagan gave her tips on how to best care for patients suffering from Covid-19, and to stay safe.
"I told her she had to take care of herself because she's a little bit old already," Buendia said. "The last thing she told me is that I have to take care of myself and the other patients, as well. It hit me hard. She never mentioned her illness or what she's going through. I view her as a selfless woman."
Paediatric nurse Theresa Lococo died on 27 March. She had worked at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, for 48 years.
Theresa Lococo attended nursing school at Kings County Hospital in the 1970s.
On March 27, the 68-year-old paediatric nurse died from the coronavirus after serving patients at the same facility for 48 years, her daughter Lisa Lococo told Business Insider.
"My mother was very committed to what she did, and she just loved the people and the hospital," Lisa Lococo said about her mother's long career. "I can remember when I was a kid, she worked with a lot of children who were abandoned by their parents and they would become like her children. And they were patients of hers for years on end."
Lococo made life-long friendships with her colleagues and their children grew up together, Lisa said. Even though many of the nurses she started her career with have since retired, Lococo kept showing up to work.
Every day for as her son and daughter can remember, their mother would leave for work at least an hour before her scheduled shift.
"She was so committed to her patients and her friends and colleagues. That nursing job was her life," Lisa said.
Outside of work, Lococo's world revolved around Lisa and her brother Anthony, and eventually their children.
"She loved her kids and her grandchildren. There is nothing she wouldn't do for any us," Lisa said. "She would put herself last before everyone else."
Lisa said that her mother's passing was unexpected and that she hadn't been tested for the virus before she died.
On March 27, Lisa called her mother at the exact moment her brother had called for paramedics. She died soon after.
With social distancing measures still in place, the family hasn't been able to have a memorial for her.
Theresa Lococo's mother, who was in her 90s and living in a Brooklyn nursing home, died two weeks after she did.
"My grandmother was not aware of the death of my mother. She had Alzheimer's," Lisa said.
"We have been suffering a tremendous loss," she added. "It's been really rough, and it's even harder to deal with it from so far away. I can't go up there and do anything."
Douglas Linn Hickok, 57, a physician assistant and New Jersey National Guardsman, became the first US military service member to die from the coronavirus
Army Captain Douglas Linn Hickok, a physician assistant and New Jersey National Guardsman, became the first US military service member to die from the coronavirus when he passed away on March 28 at the age of 57 at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Poconos in Pennsylvania.
Born January 15, 1963, at Oklahoma's Norman Air Force Base, Hickok was a third-generation service member who served as a captain in the National Guard Medical Unit in Seagirt, New Jersey. He graduated from US International University in California with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Diplomacy, and then went on to Cornell Medical School in New York City, where he attained a physician assistant medical degree.
"Capt. Hickok provided compassionate and professional care to the Soldiers of the New Jersey Army National Guard while assigned to the Medical Command," Col. Edwin Wymer, commander, New Jersey Army National Guard Medical Command, wrote in an emailed statement to BI. "Hickok was highly praised by subordinates and Senior Officers alike for his dedication and service to the Citizen-Soldiers of New Jersey."
After serving in New Jersey, Hickok moved to Maryland in 2009 to work as a civilian physician assistant at Andrew's Air Force Base and then to Pennsylvania in 2017 where he worked as an orthopedic physician assistant at a clinic, according to his family.
"He was my hero," Mary Scott-Peavler, Hickok's younger sister, told BI. "He never gave up, never ran from things, and was not afraid of anything."
"He served people. He served family, country, and faith," Scott-Peavler said. "That sums up my brother."
Hickok's daughter, Shandrea, described her father as a caring person who was devoted to spending time with her and her brother Noah.
"My best memories of my father are the many trips he took my brother and me on," she told BI in an email. "He loved to go outside and take us to parks, museums, battleships, military bases, movie theaters, beaches, and restaurants."
His hobbies included cooking, hiking, baseball, and scouting. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hickok also served a church mission in Spain for two years in the 1980s and spoke fluent Spanish.
A few weeks before his passing, Hickok and his daughter went on a spontaneous trip to the Sandy Hook Proving Ground in New Jersey, where Shandrea said her father excitedly took in the old canons, beautiful scenery, and wildlife on the grounds.
"This memory really encompasses my father's zest for life and sense of wonder for the outdoors," she said.
Freda Ocran, 50, died of coronavirus on 28 March. She was the head nurse of Jacobi Medical Center's psychiatric unit in New York City.
Freda Ocran worked as a nursing staff supervisor in Jacobi Medical Center's psychiatric ward, the New York Post reported.
About two weeks before her death, she began exhibiting mild symptoms of the illness. She continued to report to work until the hospital sent her home one day without testing her for the coronavirus, her son Kwame Ocran told the Post.
On March 20, Ocran updated her Facebook profile picture with a banner reading, "I can't stay home ... I'm a healthcare worker!"
She was eventually admitted to a hospital in the Bronx on March 24 and put on a ventilator. She died from coronavirus on 28 March.
According to Kwame Ocran, one of her three sons, Ocran was worried about the lack of testing being conducted at her facility.
"Without those tests being administered, there's no way of knowing if she was working with someone who had it or not," Kwame Ocran told the New York Post.
Mayor Bill De Blasio announced Ocran's death the day after her passing, noting that family members relied upon her for support, including her mother who lives in Ghana.
"What a horrible loss for that family, that hospital, and our city," De Blasio said as the New York Post reports.
Her son said she "gave herself undoubtedly to the church, to her work and to her kids," according to CBS News. She leaves behind her husband of 30 years, Joseph.
On March 16, almost two weeks before her death, Ocran shared a Facebook post reading, "Even in the midst of catastrophic events. Continue to speak your blessings. Dont stop!"
Tomas Pattugalan, 70, an internal medicine doctor with over 40 years of experience, passed away from Covid-19 in the early hours of 29 March at Nassau University Hospital.
Tomas Pattugalan, 70, an internal medicine doctor with over 40 years of experience, passed away from Covid-19 the morning of 29 March at Nassau University Hospital.
Pattugalan was born and raised in Tuguegarao City in the Philippines and moved to New York in the late 1970s with his first wife and eldest daughter Patricia. He set up a private practice in Jamaica, Queens, in New York City, which he operated until his final days - transitioning from in-person to telehealth appointments once the city began to report more positive cases and he himself tested positive for the coronavirus on March 24.
"I saw how he worked as I was growing up," Pattugalan's youngest daughter Tammy Justine Pattugalan, 14, told BI. "He knew every one of his patients by name. That was truly one of his most desirable traits."
Family and close friends affectionately referred to Pattugalan as "honeyboy," according to Pattugalan's son Gino Pattugalan. "He was just loved by everybody. He was honey, he was honeyboy," Gino told BI. "And even if you were upset at him, he could charm you."
"My father loved to show love through food," Gino said. "The question he would always ask was, 'Did you eat?' It's one of those questions that comes from growing up in a third world country where you might go hungry. He always wanted to take care of us, to make sure we were healthy and provided for."
Pattugalan was a devout Catholic, according to family members. In January, a few months before he passed, Pattugalan traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate his 70th birthday.
"It struck me when he told me that," Gino said. "I think he started to see how thin the veil was between this life and next and he went to the Holy Land because he knew he just wouldn't know the time or hour [of his death] and I think he knew maybe something could happen."
"I think he would want other people to know that he was a very religious man," Tammy said, recounting her father's words to her when his oxygen levels dropped and he had to go to the hospital.
She asked him to promise her that he would live to see her graduate from middle school, get married, and live the rest of her life.
"Tammy, just pray," he responded.
Jeannie Danker, 60, died on 29 March from coronavirus. She was the head of radiology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Jeannie Danker spent more than 30 years at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. According to an internal letter to staff, colleagues nicknamed her "Ms. Radiology."
She met her husband of 30 years, John Danker, there as well. The two were proud Buckeyes and avid tailgaters at Ohio State football games, according to WBNS.
She died on Sunday, March 29 at the age of 60, after testing positive for the coronavirus.
John Danker tragically died just two months before, on January 30, after a battle with ALS, according to his obituary. They leave behind two daughters, Jill and Jennifer.
Ohio State is not disclosing the specifics of how she contracted the virus, according to WBNS.
Maggie Danker, who described Jeannie Danker as her aunt, posted on Facebook that her "contagious energy and loving heart will be sincerely missed."
Maggie Danker also wrote, "Covid-19 now has a face for me, it's real, it's happening, and affecting our loved ones."
When reached for comment, Jill Danker told BI that the family is requesting privacy at this time.
In a statement to Wexner Medical Center staff obtained by WBSN, CEO Dr. Harold Paz called Danker a beloved and dedicated colleague.
"She infused her administrative role with determination, selflessness, and a patient-first attitude," Paz wrote.
Larrice Anderson, 46, died of the coronavirus disease on 31 March. She worked as a nurse for 12 years in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Larrice Anderson has been a practicing nurse since 2008 when she received her Bachelor of Nursing from the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A longtime New Orleans resident, the 46-year-old worked on the front lines in the emergency room unit at New Orleans East Hospital treating patients infected with the coronavirus disease.
"She always was the backbone of the ER," Anderson's friend, Dorothy Lewis, told the New Orleans Advocate. Lewis also told the local newspaper that Anderson had underlying health issues, making her more susceptible to severe symptoms of the disease. Nevertheless, Anderson bravely continued showing up to work.
But in early March, Lewis said, Anderson became sick with stomach issues before being diagnosed with viral pneumonia. According to WBTV, she contracted the virus while tirelessly treating patients infected with the disease.
"She only went to work and home," Lewis told the New Orleans Advocate. "She had no room for nothing else. That tells you right there where she got it from."
She was admitted to the New Orleans East Hospital as a patient and eventually began to show signs of improvement. Her daughter, Cerrice Anderson, posted on Facebook on March 30 news of her mother being moved from the ICU to a separate unit to begin recovery.
But her health dipped, and she ultimately died a day later. She leaves behind two children.
"She passed away in hero fashion, doing something she truly loved which was caring for those in need, an unsung hero," Anderson's cousin, Donyette McGill Williams, wrote in a Facebook post.
New Orleans East Hospital staff posted a video releasing balloons in honor of their fallen coworker.
The hospital has also sent up a link for donations on the family's behalf.
"She was always smiling. That's what I like to think of now. That's what people remember, and not just remember her for this virus," her former nursing school teacher Kristy Solis told WBTV.
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