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New York ER doctor on front line of coronavirus pandemic dies by suicide

Dr. Lorna Breen's father told the New York Times his daughter was 'in the trenches of the front line' and he wanted to make sure she was remembered as a hero.
Credit: Columbia Doctors

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A top New York City doctor who treated many COVID-19 patients died by suicide over the weekend, authorities and her father said.  

Dr. Lorna Breen, the medical director of the emergency department at New \York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, was visiting family in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the time of her death, her father told The New York Times.

The Charlottesville Police Department said in a statement on Monday that officers responded to a call for medical assistance on Sunday, April 26. Dr. Breen, 49, was taken to the UVA Hospital for treatment where she later succumbed to self-inflicted injuries.

Dr. Philip C. Breen, Dr. Breen's father, told the New York Times that his daughter had described "devastating scenes of the toll the coronavirus took on patients."

Her father told the Times, “she tried to do her job, and it killed her.” He added that she "was truly in the trenches of the front line" and wanted to "make sure she's praised as a hero, because she was."

Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian, where Dr. Breen worked, hailed her as a hero.

"Words cannot convey the sense of loss we feel today," the hospital statement said. "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."

RELATED: Here's what it's like inside a New York emergency room treating COVID-19

Credit: Columbia Doctors

Breen's father told CNN that his daughter had contracted COVID-19, took a week and a half off to recover, then returned to the hospital to treat patients. Her father said that when she returned to work, she couldn't make it through a full shift. 

Phillip Breen told CNN a friend convinced her daughter to go to Virginia, where most of her family lives. He added that once she was in Virginia, she was admitted to the hospital for exhaustion. He told CNN that after she was released, she stayed with her mom, then went to stay with her sister, and that's where she died.  

After Breen's death, Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney said in a press release that front line healthcare workers and first responders "are not immune to the mental or physical effects of the current pandemic." 

 "On a daily basis, these professionals operate under the most stressful of circumstances, and the Coronavirus has introduced additional stressors," Brackney added. "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." 

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online. 

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