America’s health care workers are dying. In some states, medical staff account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases. They tend to patients in hospitals, treating them, serving them food and cleaning their rooms. Others at risk work in nursing homes or are employed as home health aides.
Some of them do not survive the encounter. Many hospitals are overwhelmed and some workers lack protective equipment or suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to the highly infectious virus.
Many cases are shrouded in secrecy. “Lost on the Frontline” is a collaboration between The Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of health care workers in the U.S. who die of COVID-19, and to understand why so many are falling victim to the pandemic.
These are some of the first tragic cases.
Nurse Wouldn’t Abandon Her Patients Or Let Family Worry
(Courtesy of the Isaacs family)
Age: 65 Occupation: Nurse Place of Work: Signature Healthcare in Newburgh, Indiana Date of Death: May 1, 2020
Marsha Bantle’s family begged her to quit after a resident in the nursing home where she worked was diagnosed with COVID-19.
But Bantle wouldn’t leave. “My patients can’t leave their rooms, they can’t see their families. They really need me right now,’” she told her cousin Carol Isaacs.
Bantle assured relatives she wouldn’t work in the COVID wing. But on April 17, her temperature spiked. Bantle, who lived alone, holed up at home. She finally called her family when it was clear she needed hospital care.
“That’s Marsha for you,” her cousin John Isaacs said. “She didn’t want us to worry.”
Even while hospitalized, Bantle looked out for others, said Shay Gould, the ICU nurse who cared for her. She offered to turn off her medication pump to save the nurse a trip. She asked for other patients’ names to pray for them.
After about a week, Bantle had a stroke, likely brought on by the COVID-19 infection. Within days, she died.
In a statement, Signature Healthcare said: “The loss of any of our residents or staff, for any reason, is devastating.”
— Michelle Crouch | Published May 12, 2020
Pharmacist, Feeling Sick, Didn’t Want To Let Patients Down
(Courtesy of the Boynes family)
Age: 46 Occupation: Pharmacist Place of Work: AbsoluteCare Medical Center & Pharmacy in Greenbelt, Maryland Date of Death: April 2, 2020
When the coronavirus began circulating in the Washington metropolitan region, Sean Boynes went to work.
“Patients need their medicine,” he told his wife, Nicole.
The medical center where he worked bills itself as “a medical home for the sickest of the sick”; many of its patients struggle with chronic illness and poverty. Boynes was the Greenbelt branch’s first pharmacist.
He was an “incredible, loving guy,” said Dr. Gregory Foti, chief of innovative operations at AbsoluteCare.
Boynes was a proud Howard University alumnus and had three degrees — a bachelor’s of science in biology, a master’s in exercise physiology and a doctorate in pharmacy — from the institution.
In early March, Boynes and his wife began feeling sick. Boynes didn’t want to stop working but thought “taking a sick day might be OK,” Nicole said. He also took a break from being a jungle gym to his eight- and 11-year-old girls. Nicole called him “Super Dad.”
Nicole got better, but Sean, who had asthma, saw his breathing deteriorate.
On March 25, Nicole dropped him at the hospital doors. The medical staff confirmed COVID-19. The family never saw him again.
Foti said AbsoluteCare follows CDC recommendations, such as providing staff with face masks, and declined to comment on where Boynes became infected. He said “it was literally impossible to tell” where Boynes had contracted the virus.
To honor him, AbsoluteCare is naming the Greenbelt pharmacy after Boynes.
— Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News | Published May 12, 2020
A Spry EMT, He Made ‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’
(Courtesy of Toni Lorenc)
Age: 74 Occupation: Emergency medical technician and rescue squad chief Place of Work: Woodbridge Township Ambulance and Rescue Squad in Iselin, New Jersey Date of Death: April 17, 2020
“That’s not the way you throw a curveball!” John Careccia famously declared to his grandson at a family picnic, according to his daughter, Toni Lorenc. Careccia then threw the ball so wide that it broke a window in her shed.
“That’s how you throw the batter off,” he said, brushing off the mishap.
“Typical Pop-Pop,” Lorenc said. “He had so much confidence in himself.”
Careccia, who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for 30 years, harnessed his self-confidence into a second career. Inspired by two EMTs who saved his son’s life, he became a volunteer EMT in 1993. A consummate educator, he taught CPR, mentored young EMTs and gave catechism classes at his church, Lorenc said.
A spry 74, Careccia responded to 911 calls as chief of his rescue squad, a volunteer position. On a March 25 call, he evaluated a coronavirus patient, said Ed Barrett, squad president. Careccia died of COVID-19 several weeks later.
At his firehouse memorial service, Careccia was summoned over a loudspeaker for his “last call.”
“Having heard no response from Chief Careccia, we know that John has made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Steve Packer, a previous squad president. “His leadership, dedication, compassion and friendship will be greatly missed.”
— Melissa Bailey | Published May 12, 2020
Police Officer Turned Nurse Practitioner Was Pursuing A Doctorate
(Courtesy of Dennis Graiani)
Age: 56 Occupation: Family nurse practitioner Place of Work: Rockland Medical Group in Garnerville, New York Date of Death: March 30, 2020
Kevin Graiani always wanted to work in health care, according to Dennis Graiani, one of his three sons. But his mother told him he needed a pension, so he became a cop.
Kevin, who grew up in the Bronx, served five years on the New York City Housing Authority police force, then 15 on a suburban police force in Spring Valley, New York. He was a “brilliant officer,” said Lt. Jack Bosworth of Spring Valley.
Known for his dry sense of humor, Kevin often rattled off quotes from movies. He played bagpipes for the Rockland County Police Emerald Society, a law enforcement group. When he retired from police work, he began nursing school and became a nurse practitioner in 2018.
Kevin, who worked at a private practice, became sick on March 10 and was later diagnosed with COVID-19, Dennis said.
He loved learning and was set to finish classes this summer for his doctorate of nursing practice, said Lynne Weissman, his professor and program director at Dominican College.
He was an “extremely bright student” with a 3.7 GPA, Weissman said.
She has nominated him for a posthumous degree.
— Melissa Bailey | Published May 12, 2020
School Nurse ‘Was A Mother To Many’
(Courtesy of the Howard family)
Age: 53 Occupation: School nurse Place of Work: Spring Creek Community School in Brooklyn, New York Date of Death: April 4, 2020
Marilyn Howard was known for her generosity and never missing a party. Born in Guyana, she came to the U.S. as a teenager. She helped raise her five brothers, putting her ambitions on hold. “She was a mother to many,” her brother Haslyn said.
In her mid-30s, she turned to her own career goals. She steadily racked up four nursing degrees and recently had begun studying to become a nurse practitioner.
Howard, who lived in Queens, New York, was a school nurse in Brooklyn, where she regularly treated children with chronic illnesses associated with poverty. The week before the pandemic shuttered schools, a fellow nurse had a fever and cough.
Days later, Howard developed the same symptoms. After initially improving, she took a sudden turn for the worse April 4. As her brother drove her to the hospital, her heart stopped. She was declared dead at the hospital.
In tribute, hundreds turned out on Zoom to mark Nine-Night — a days-long wake tradition in the Caribbean — where loved ones shared photos, sang songs and recounted Howard’s effect on their lives.
The pandemic has since ripped through Howard’s extended family, infecting at least a dozen relatives. (One cousin was hospitalized but was released and is recovering.) The family has evolved into a sprawling triage team, monitoring one another’s temperatures, delivering food, charting emergency contacts and nearby hospitals.
Howard’s brothers hope to start a foundation in her name to help aspiring nurses in the U.S. and West Indies. “The best way to honor her spirit and her memory is to bring more nurses into this world,” said her brother Rawle. “We need more Marilyns around.”
— Noa Yachot, The Guardian | Published May 12, 2020
Post-Retirement, She Tirelessly Rejoined Workforce
(Courtesy Bethany MacDonald)
Age: 74 Occupation: Receptionist Place of Work: Orchard View Manor, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in East Providence, Rhode Island Date of Death: April 25, 2020
Nancy MacDonald tried retiring, but couldn’t make it stick.
For 20 years, she was a middle school teaching assistant and cheerleading coach. At home, she loved painting rocks and watching “Blue Bloods” and “American Idol.” She was married with two adult children.
A lifelong Rhode Islander, Nancy was a people person, her daughter, Bethany MacDonald, said. “She always wanted to help others.”
So, in 2017, it was natural that she’d go back to work, this time at a nursing home.
Tim Brown, an Orchard View spokesperson, said the facility has “extensive infection control,” satisfying government guidelines. He would not say how often employees receive new N95s.
On April 13, MacDonald began coughing. By April 16, she was hospitalized. Her COVID test came back positive. She died 10 days later ― almost a week after her last conversation with her daughter.
“I said, ‘Mama, we love you,’” Bethany said. “The last words she said to me were, ‘I love you, too.’”
— Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published May 12, 2020
Despite Danger, Semi-Retired Nurse Kept Caring For ER Patients
(Courtesy of the Miles family)
Age: 60 Occupation: Registered nurse Place of Work: Scott Regional Hospital in Morton, Mississippi Date of Death: May 1, 2020
At age 60, Sheena Miles was semi-retired. She usually worked every other weekend, but as COVID-19 emerged in Mississippi, she worked four weekends in a row from mid-March to mid-April.
“I’ve got a duty,” she told her son, Tom Miles.
The economy where she lived is dominated by poultry plants, and the county has been a coronavirus hot spot. Sheena was diligent with protective gear, wearing her mask and doubling up on gloves, Tom said. She stayed home when she wasn’t working.
“Losing Sheena has been a tragic loss, as she had been a part of our hospital for 25 years,” said Heather Davis, a hospital administrator.
Sheena took ill on Easter Sunday. By Thursday, Tommy Miles, her husband of 43 years, drove her to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
Two long weeks passed. Before the family went in for the final farewell, an ICU nurse shared a salute. Years ago, Sheena had cared for his infant daughter in the ER. “‘Your mom saved her life,’” the nurse said.
“That was a little comfort in the storm,” Sheena’s son said.
— Michaela Gibson Morris | Published May 12, 2020
A Nurse Who Was Living Her Dream Of Working In The U.S.
(Courtesy of Venus Donasco-Delfin)
Age: 38 Occupation: Registered nurse Place of Work: Community First Medical Center and Kindred Chicago Lakeshore in Chicago, and Bridgeway Senior Living in Bensenville, Illinois Date of Death: April 14, 2020
As a child, Anjanette Miller dreamed of becoming a nurse in the U.S. She studied in her native Philippines and worked briefly in Saudi Arabia before fulfilling her wish in 2001.
Miller settled in Chicago and worked as a supervising nurse at three facilities. Her sister, Venus Donasco-Delfin, said Miller got along well with co-workers who shared her work ethic.
“At work, I think, she was strict, but beyond work, she’s a great friend,” Donasco-Delfin said. One of five siblings, she was the “pillar of the family” and supported relatives back home.
“I studied psychology for two years,” Donasco-Delfin said, “but she kept calling me [in the Philippines] and said, ‘No, Venus. … You have to pursue nursing. You will make a difference.’” Donasco-Delfin, now in Canada, became a nurse.
Miller started feeling sick in mid-March and was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April. She self-isolated, chronicling her illness on YouTube and Facebook. She was hospitalized April 5 and died nine days later.
Miller had hoped to retire to the Philippines and pursue her other passion, filmmaking. Last year she traveled back home to shoot scenes for a project. “The movie she was making is about her life story,” Donasco-Delfin said. “But it’s not finished yet.”
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published May 12, 2020
He Took The Time To Put Patients At Ease
(Courtesy of Holy Name Medical Center)
Age: 75 Occupation: Patient transport worker Place of Work: Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey Date of Death: April 3, 2020
After Jesus Villaluz died from COVID-19 complications, colleagues lined the hallway at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, to say goodbye. They’d never done that for anyone else.
“Jesus knew many and meant a lot to all of us, so this gesture felt like the right thing to do,” said hospital spokesperson Nicole Urena.
The hospital, and surrounding Bergen County, have been hit hard by the pandemic. By May 8, Holy Name had treated more than 6,000 COVID patients, 181 of whom died.
Villaluz worked at Holy Name for 27 years. In a Facebook post, the hospital memorialized Villaluz’s generosity: He once won a raffle and shared the winnings with colleagues, an anecdote New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy repeated at a news conference. Family members declined requests for an interview.
Co-worker Hossien Dahdouli said Villaluz’s compassion for patients was exemplary. He never rushed anyone, took the time to chat with patients and was always concerned for their privacy and safety, Dahdouli said.
Years ago, after Dahdouli had a sad day caring for deteriorating ICU patients, he asked Villaluz why he always appeared so happy.
“He said, ‘My worst day at work is better than someone’s best day as a patient.’”
— Anna Almendrala, Kaiser Health News | Published May 12, 2020
Family Vacations And Reggae Gave Rhythm To His Life
(Courtesy of Nina Batayola)
Don Ryan Batayola
Age: 40 Occupation: Occupational therapist Place of Work: South Mountain Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Vauxhall, New Jersey Date of Death: April 4, 2020
April 4 was the day Don and Nina Batayola had planned to leave for London on a 10-day European vacation. Instead, that was the day Don died of COVID-19.
The Springfield, New Jersey, couple loved to travel ― on their own or with their children, Zoie, 10, and Zeth, 8. Disney World. Road trips to Canada. Every year for a week they would savor the beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Don’s love of reggae music prompted a trip to Jamaica to visit Bob Marley’s birthplace.
The Batayolas, both occupational therapists, moved to New Jersey from the Philippines 13 years ago to pursue their careers.
“He loved to help,” Nina said. “He had such the ability to make everybody smile or laugh.”
Don worked with at least one patient and a handful of colleagues who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, and in late March, he developed symptoms. Nina came home from work for lunch on March 31 to find him struggling to breathe. She dialed 911.
He was hospitalized, then she also developed COVID symptoms. Self-isolating at home, Nina talked with Don once a day. She thought he seemed stronger but, on the fourth day, his heart suddenly stopped.
— Michelle Andrews | Published May 8, 2020
Even On ‘The Saddest Day … She Could Make You Laugh’
(Courtesy of Kim Bruner)
Age: 32 Occupation: Nurse Place of Work: Silverado Beverly Place in Los Angeles Date of Death: April 20, 2020
When it was Brittany Bruner-Ringo’s turn to pick the family vacation, it was always New Orleans. A city so full of life.
And that is how family described the 32-year-old who left the Oklahoma plains for the excitement of Southern California.
“She always made the best of things,” her mother, Kim Bruner, said. “It could be the saddest day, and she could make you laugh.”
Bruner-Ringo worked at a dementia care center. On March 19, she admitted a patient flown in from New York. She suspected he might have COVID-19, and she was nervous. For fear of frightening the patients, she hadn’t been allowed to wear a mask or gloves, she told her mom by phone that night. (A spokesperson from her employer said, “We have no issues in our environment using appropriate masking and gloves and have followed CDC guidelines throughout this pandemic. We have always had adequate PPE to protect our residents and associates.”)
The following day, the patient grew worse. Bruner-Ringo checked into a hotel to isolate from her roommate. She later tested positive for COVID-19, but when she developed symptoms did not complain ― even to her mom: “She would say, ‘I’m fine. I’m going to beat this. Don’t worry about me.’”
Bruner, a veteran nurse herself, called the hotel front desk for help getting an ambulance to her daughter. She had just hung up with her daughter, who insisted she was fine, while struggling to breathe.
— Samantha Young, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020
He And His Wife Shared A Lust For Travel ― And A COVID Diagnosis
(Courtesy of LaKita Bush)
Age: 30 Occupation: Nurse and nursing student Place of Work: Benton House of Aiken in Aiken, South Carolina Date of Death: April 17, 2020
Joshua Bush never let his wife, LaKita, forget that she was five hours late for their first date.
“He never held back telling the truth,” LaKita said, with a doleful laugh.
They met online in 2011, each attracted to the other’s lust for travel. For Joshua’s 30th birthday, they took a cruise to Bermuda. He yearned to go farther afield to Tokyo to revel over anime.
Joshua began his nursing career after high school, eventually ending up at Benton House of Aiken, an assisted living facility. Joshua and LaKita, who works in human resources for a hospital, thought it was allergy-related when they both fell ill in late March. Benton House had no confirmed COVID cases at the time, LaKita said. Even still, the staff was taking precautions.
A doctor prescribed Joshua flu medication, but his symptoms — fever and aches but no cough — worsened, and he was admitted to a hospital in Augusta, Georgia, on April 4.
“That was the last time I saw him alive,” LaKita said.
Over the next few days, both tested positive for the coronavirus. Joshua was sedated in the hospital for two weeks and died on April 17. LaKita recovered at home.
Joshua was earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. May would have marked the couple’s fifth anniversary.
— Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020
Her Sudden Death Blindsided Husband And Autistic Son
(Courtesy of Vincent Carmello)
Age: 57 Occupation: Licensed practical nurse Place of Work: Maryhaven Center of Hope in Port Jefferson Station, New York Date of Death: April 16, 2020
Karen Carmello had an intimate understanding of working with intellectually disabled patients.
Her 26-year-old son, Steven, has autism. According to her husband, Vincent, the two spoke by phone every day. Steven would recall exactly what he did, and Karen listened intently.
“She could do no wrong in his eyes, ever,” Vincent said. “It’s a very special bond, but it’s one that she earned.”
Sharing the news of her death was shattering: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do — letting him know.”
When Karen took ill, she discovered that a patient in her ward had tested positive for COVID-19. She was hospitalized March 23. Eight days later, she sent Vincent her last text, at 2:17 a.m., before going to the ICU.
On April 16, hospital staff called and asked whether Vincent would be comfortable signing a do-not-resuscitate order. He hadn’t been able to see his wife, so he didn’t completely grasp how grave her condition was.
“I thought, ‘OK, this must be a formality,'” he said. “I authorized it. And I got a call within two hours that she passed. I was stunned.”
— Shoshana Dubnow, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020
His Facebook Posts Left Clues Of A Tragic Timeline
(Courtesy of Felicia Dodson-Hill)
Age: 51 Occupation: Certified nursing assistant Place of Work: West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Austin, Texas Date of Death: April 17, 2020
Maurice Dotson’s sister knew something was wrong when her older brother didn’t post his daily Facebook update.
“We knew he was good as long as he posted every morning,” Felicia Dodson-Hill, of Jacksonville, Arkansas, said.
Dotson, 51 ― a certified nursing assistant for 25 years at the West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Austin — had begun caring for COVID-19 patients.
He sounded positive on Facebook, posting on March 30: “We are going through scary, difficult times, but better days are coming.”
Days later, family in Arkansas couldn’t reach him.
“We had been trying to get in contact with him since April 1st,” his sister said. “On April 3rd, he posted that he had to go to the hospital ― that he was not feeling good.”
Dodson-Hill said the hospital sent him home. Her mother finally reached him on April 6 or 7.
“He told my mom he didn’t have the energy to barely talk,” Dodson-Hill said.
Dawunna Wilson, a cousin from Hazen, Arkansas, said Maurice called an ambulance on April 8. Results from his coronavirus test done at the hospital came back positive the next day. “From there, it was pretty much downhill,” Wilson said.
— Sharon Jayson | Published May 5, 2020
Community Salutes Nurse Who Loved Baseball
(Courtesy of Leigh Ann Lewis)
Age: 63 Occupation: Licensed practical nurse Place of Work: Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center in Emporia, Virginia Date of Death: March 29, 2020
When Barbara Finch got excited, she’d scrunch her hands into fists and wave them around like a kid at Christmas. She did it when the Atlanta Braves scored, or while watching her grandkids play baseball, her No. 1 passion outside work.
Finch spent her 37-year nursing career in the emergency department of the hospital in Emporia, Virginia (population of about 5,000), where one of her four children, Leigh Ann Lewis, worked as an EMT.
Lewis knew her mother was well liked: Patients she transported from the hospital would rave that Finch had been sweet and compassionate.
Finch fell ill on March 17 and died in an ICU 12 days later. As a hearse carried her casket to the graveyard, Lewis said, people lined the way at driveway mailboxes, churches and stores, holding signs that read, “We love you,” “Praying for you,” “Hugs.” At her hospital, employees released balloons to the sky.
“It seemed like, in our area, she knew everybody — either she worked with them, or they were a patient of hers at some point,” Lewis said. “It was a very, very large outpour of love and comfort and solidarity.”
— Melissa Bailey | Published May 8, 2020
‘He Loved To Work,’ With No Plans To Retire
(Courtesy Giancarlo Pattugalan)
Age: 70 Occupation: Internal medicine physician Place of Work: Private practice in Jamaica, Queens, New York Date of Death: March 29, 2020
Tomas Pattugalan’s kids had been encouraging him to retire. Even after 45 years of medicine, Pattugalan wasn’t ready to slow down.
“He loved his patients. He loved to work. He loved to help others,” said Giancarlo, his son. “He had an enormous capacity to give of himself.”
A father of three, Pattugalan grew up in the Philippines, emigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s. He was a devout Catholic — attending Mass weekly ― and “karaoke master,” Giancarlo said.
In early March, Pattugalan began testing patients for COVID-19. His medical history, including a family history of strokes and high blood pressure, heightened his own risk. So after tests of two patients returned positive, he got tested himself. On March 24, he learned he had the coronavirus.
“He made a joke and said Prince Charles had tested [positive] too, and he was sharing royalty,” Giancarlo said. “He was making light of it, not trying to get any of us worried.”
Pattugalan had a cough. Then came wheezing. His oxygen levels dropped. He tried hydroxychloroquine, an experimental treatment touted by President Donald Trump that has yielded mixed results. Nothing helped.
On March 29, Pattugalan agreed to seek hospital care. He died that day.
— Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020
Says Widow Battling Cancer: ‘He Was My Backbone’
(Courtesy of Melissa Castro Santos)
Age: 50 Occupation: Transportation supervisor Place of Work: NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester Behavioral Health Center in White Plains, New York Date of Death: April 4, 2020
Melissa Castro Santos had just started a new treatment for multiple myeloma when her husband, Darrin, got sick.
For nearly two weeks, he isolated in their bedroom, but after he began gasping for air, he went to the hospital. He died of COVID-19 days later.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Castro Santos said.
As a transportation supervisor, Santos delivered health care workers and equipment between hospitals in the New York metropolitan area. He loved his job, Castro Santos said, and was known to drive doctors wherever and whenever they were needed, through heavy traffic and snowstorms.
Castro Santos, who has been battling cancer since 2012, said her husband doted on their three teenagers, all avid athletes. He arranged his work schedule to attend as many of their games as possible. When he couldn’t make it, she would call him on FaceTime so he could catch glimpses of the action.
Unable to hold a funeral, they arranged for burial five days after Santos died. Friends lined the streets in cars in a show of support as the family drove to and from the cemetery.
Now Castro Santos is confronting cancer without her husband. “He was my backbone. He was the one who took me to chemotherapy and appointments.”
— Anna Jean Kaiser, The Guardian | Published May 8, 2020
An Animal Lover Who Loved Aerospace, She Died Alone At Home
(Courtesy of Aubree Farmer)
Age: 53 Occupation: Registered nurse Place of Work: Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit Date of Death: April 1, 2020
Lisa Ewald was a nurse to many living things, human and otherwise.
When her neighbor Alexis Fernandez’s border collie had a stomach blockage, Ewald hooked the dog up to an IV four times a day. “She was this dedicated nurse who nursed my dog back to health,” Fernandez said.
Ewald also loved gardening, aerospace and comic book conventions.
Ewald told Fernandez that a patient she had treated later tested positive for COVID-19, and that she was not wearing a mask at the time. Two days later, after seeing the patient, she got sick. After delays in accessing a test, she learned on March 30 that she was infected with the coronavirus.
A hospital spokesperson acknowledged that staff who treat coronavirus patients have a higher risk of exposure, but said there was “no way to confirm” how a staff member contracted the virus.
On March 31, Ewald didn’t answer when Fernandez texted her. The next day, Fernandez and a hospital nurse went to Ewald’s home to check on her and found her unresponsive on the couch.
“I said, ‘Aren’t you going to go take her pulse or anything?’” Fernandez said. “The nurse just said, ‘She’s gone.’”
— Melissa Bailey | Published May 5, 2020
An Ardent EMT Who Seemed To Have Nine Lives
(Courtesy of Ben Geiger)
Age: 47 Occupation: Emergency medical technician Place of Work: Atlantic Health System in Mountainside and Warren, New Jersey Date of Death: April 13, 2020
Scott Geiger wasn’t always enthusiastic about school, but at age 16 he brought home a tome the size of two phone books. It was a manual for emergency medical technicians, and he devoured it, said his younger brother, Ben Geiger.
Scott was certified as an EMT at 17. He never married or had kids, but did not seem to miss those things.
“He was so focused on being an EMT and helping people in their most vulnerable and desperate moments,” Ben said. “That’s really what made him feel good.”
Scott loved playing pool each week with friends. He was a loyal New York Jets football fan, content to joke about their follies and watch them lose. He was quiet. And he seemed to have nine lives, his brother said, surviving hospitalizations for epilepsy as a kid and blood cancer around age 40.
When the coronavirus began to tear a path through northern New Jersey, he faced his EMT work with resolve. He downplayed his symptoms when he first fell ill in late March, but wound up spending 17 days on a ventilator before he died. The family has had to mourn separately, with the brothers’ father, who lived with Scott, in quarantine, and their mother confined to her room in a nursing home that has COVID-19 cases.
— Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020
Caring Nurse ‘Always Put Herself Last’
(Courtesy of Lisa Lococo)
Age: 68 Occupation: Pediatric nurse Place of Work: Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York Date of Death: March 27, 2020
Theresa Lococo spent most of her life at the hospital, working as a pediatric nurse for almost 48 years.
“There wasn’t a day that goes by she wouldn’t come home and tell me about her patients,” said her daughter, Lisa Lococo. “She had to be forced to take her vacation days.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly saluted her lifelong service to New Yorkers, saying, “She gave her life helping others.”
Theresa had dogs — “sometimes too many,” Lisa said — and lived with her son, Anthony, in the home she owned for decades. She loved cooking and watching cooking shows, reading and following soap operas.
Theresa wasn’t tested for COVID-19. But Kings County Hospital, in Brooklyn, was hit hard by the coronavirus.
Days before dying, she described nausea. Friends recalled a cough. Her supervisor encouraged her to stay home, her daughter said.
Lisa called her mother on March 27, just as Anthony was dialing 911 for help.
“She always put others first,” Lisa said. “She always put herself last.”
— Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020
He Was Full Of Life And Planning For The Future
(Courtesy of the Luna family)
Felicisimo “Tom” Luna
Age: 62 Occupation: Emergency room nurse Place of Work: Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey Date of Death: April 9, 2020
Tom Luna was a joker, a lively and outgoing man who thrived on the fast-paced and varied action of the emergency room. He also adored his three daughters, something clear to all who knew him.
“Tom was a fantastic emergency nurse. He was well liked and loved by his peers,” Gerard Muench, administrative director of the Trinitas emergency department, said in a statement. “His greatest love was for his wife and daughters, who he was very proud of.”
His oldest daughter, Gabrielle, 25, followed his path to become an ER nurse. When Tom fell ill with the coronavirus, he was admitted to the hospital where she works. At the end of her 12-hour night shifts, she made sure he had breakfast and helped him change his clothes. She propped a family photo next to his bed.
Tom’s wife, Kit, also a nurse, said that when some of his symptoms appeared to let up, they talked about him recovering at home. He was a planner, she said, and was already talking about their next family vacation, maybe to Spain.
— Christina Jewett | Published May 5, 2020
Air Force Veteran Went ‘Above And Beyond For Patients’
Michael Marceaux and his wife, Dunia, when he graduated from nursing school in 2018 (Courtesy of Drake Marceaux)
Age: 49 Occupation: Registered nurse Place of Work: Christus Highland Medical Center and Brentwood Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana Date of Death: April 16, 2020
After Michael Marceaux retired from the Air Force, he went back to school. In 2018 he launched a new career as an emergency room nurse.
“Everyone who worked with him said he was so happy,” said Drake Marceaux, one of his four sons. “He was willing to go above and beyond for patients.”
As the coronavirus spread throughout Louisiana, Michael developed a cough and fever. Soon afterward, he tested positive for COVID-19.
“He didn’t seem too worried,” Drake said. “He just wanted to make sure not to give it to other people.”
A spokesperson with Christus Health said Michael would be missed for “how he always had a positive attitude, even after a hard shift. His laughter brought joy to others.” The spokesperson declined to answer questions about workplace safety conditions.
Drake said he wanted his father to be remembered for how much he was loved.
His funeral was livestreamed on Facebook. “At one point, there were 2,000 viewers watching his service,” Drake said. “As much as he didn’t want attention, it gravitated toward him.”
— Victoria Knight, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020
She Loved To Give Gifts And Never Forgot Her Hometown
(Courtesy of Courtesy of Donald Jay Marcos)
Celia Lardizabal Marcos
Age: 61 Occupation: Telemetry charge nurse Place of Work: CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles Date of Death: April 17, 2020
Whenever she traveled to her hometown of Tagudin in the Philippines, Celia Lardizabal Marcos showered family with gifts and delighted in planning weekend outings for everyone, said her eldest son, Donald.
And when she returned home to California, she brought presents for her sons. “She always thought of how her family could be happy,” he said.
Trained as a nurse in her home country, Marcos emigrated to the United States in 2001 and settled in Los Angeles. Three years later, she became a telemetry charge nurse, a specialist who tracks patients’ vital signs using high-tech equipment.
On April 3, she was one of three nurses who responded after a suspected COVID patient went into cardiac arrest. Wearing a surgical mask, she intubated the patient. Three days later, she had a headache, body aches and difficulty breathing.
Her symptoms worsened, and she was admitted April 15 to the hospital where she had worked for 16 years. That was the last time Donald spoke to his mother. Two days later, she went into cardiac arrest and died that night.
Her sons plan to honor her wishes to be cremated and buried in Tagudin, alongside her parents.
— Christina M. Oriel, Asian Journal | Published May 5, 2020
‘Hero Among Heroes,’ Doctor Cared For Generations Of Patients
Francis Molinari (right) with his siblings (from left) Janice, Albert and Lisa (Courtesy of Lisa Molinari)
Age: 70 Occupation: Physician Place of Work: Private practice in Belleville, New Jersey; privileges at Clara Maass Medical Center Date of Death: April 9, 2020
In late March, Dr. Francis “Frankie” Molinari told his sister Lisa he was “down for the count,” with chills, fever and trouble breathing.
“Frankie, you know what you have,” she recalled telling him.
Two days later, he collapsed at home and was rushed to Clara Maass Medical Center. Colleagues stayed by his side as he succumbed to COVID-19.
“We take solace in the fact that he was cared for by colleagues and friends who deeply loved and respected him,” his sister Janice wrote in a blog. “He died a hero among heroes.”
Molinari, a New Jersey native who was married with an adult daughter, was the oldest of four siblings. His sisters describe him as a positive guy who loved music, fishing and teasing people with tall tales: He went to medical school in Bologna, Italy, and he liked to say he had played pinochle with the pope.
Molinari practiced medicine for over four decades, caring for generations of patients in the same family. His family suspects he contracted the coronavirus at his private practice.
“A friend had once described us as four different legs of the same table,” Janice wrote. “Now I’m stuck on the fact that we are only a three-legged table. Less beautiful, less sturdy. Broken.”
— Laura Ungar, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020
5-Foot-Tall ‘Fireball’ Was A Prankster To Her Sons
(Courtesy Josh Banago)
Age: 69 Occupation: Registered nurse Place of Work: Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri Date of Death: April 21, 2020
Celia Yap-Banago was a 5-foot-tall “fireball,” said one co-worker. She had moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1970 and worked for nearly 40 years for the HCA Midwest Health system. Her family said she was planning for retirement.
Her son Josh said she showed her love through practical jokes: “You knew she loved you if she was yelling at you or if she was pranking you.”
“She was very outspoken,” said Charlene Carter, a fellow nurse. “But I later learned that’s a really good quality to have, as a nurse, so you can advocate for your patients and advocate for yourself.”
In March, Yap-Banago treated a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19. Carter said Yap-Banago was not given personal protective equipment because she was not working in an area designed for COVID patients. She spent her final days in isolation to protect others.
A spokesperson for HCA Midwest Health said that medical staff received adequate personal protective equipment in line with CDC guidelines.
Josh said she spoke with reverence of her patients and their families. “She was always focused on the family as a whole, and that the family was taken care of, not just the patient in the bed,” he said.
— Alex Smith, KCUR | Published May 5, 2020
In Ministry And Rescue Missions, ‘He Put His All Into It’
(Courtesy of the Birmingham Family)
Billy Birmingham Sr.
Age: 69 Occupation: Emergency medical technician Place of Work: Kansas City Missouri Fire Department Date of Death: April 13, 2020
Bill Birmingham Jr. fondly remembers the year his father took on a new career. The whole family studied, even acting out scenes to ensure Billy Birmingham Sr., a minister, was ready for his emergency medical technician exam.
“He put his all into it,” the son recalled.
Billy Birmingham passed the test. And from the late 1990s on, he served as an EMT and a minister.
His family rallied again for his doctorate in pastoral theology. During nearly four decades as a minister, he founded two churches.
“He had a heart for other people,” his son said. “Whatever he could do for other people, he would do it.”
As an EMT with the Kansas City Fire Missouri Department, he was exposed to the novel coronavirus. The cough came in March.
“‘I’m just tired.’ That’s what he kept saying,” his son said. His dad went to the hospital twice. The first time he told the staff about his symptoms and underlying health conditions, then they sent him home.
The second time he arrived in an ambulance. Just over two weeks later, his final hours arrived.
Hospital staff set up a video chat so his family could see him one last time.
— Cara Anthony, Kaiser Health News | Published May 1, 2020
Jovial Man Trained Scores Of Doctors In Obstetrics, Gynecology And Kindness
(Courtesy of Ashley Ulker)
Age: 63 Occupation: OB-GYN doctor Place of Work: University of Miami and Jackson health systems in Miami Date of Death: April 8, 2020
“Somos felices.” That was Dr. Luis Caldera-Nieves’ signature signoff after a cesarean section or patient visit or at the end of a difficult shift. “We’re happy,” he meant, and often, when he was around, it was true.
Caldera-Nieves, a popular OB-GYN, trained scores of doctors and helped bring thousands of babies into the world in his 25 years at the University of Miami and Jackson health systems.
Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, he worked as an Air Force doctor before joining UM, said longtime co-worker Dr. Jaime Santiago. Caldera-Nieves was so devoted to his patients that he often gave them his private phone number — and his wife’s, Santiago said.
Because he was so jovial, he earned the nickname “the Puerto Rican Santa Claus,” Santiago said.
“He was truly loved and admired by everyone who worked with him, and will be remembered for his humor and never-ending positive energy,” said Dr. Jean-Marie Stephan, who trained under Caldera-Nieves.
In a statement, UM and Jackson confirmed Caldera-Nieves died from complications of COVID-19 and said they “grieve the loss of our esteemed and beloved colleague.” He is survived by his wife and six adult children.
— Melissa Bailey | Published May 1, 2020
A Cluster Of Illness Robs Community Of Another Fearless EMT
(Courtesy of Vito Cicchetti)
Age: 24 Occupation: Emergency medical technician Place of Work: Saint Clare’s Health in Passaic, New Jersey Date of Death: April 7, 2020
When Kevin Leiva died of COVID-19 in early April, it was a second crushing loss to his close-knit team of EMT workers. Their colleague, Israel Tolentino Jr., had died one week before.
“People were scared that everyone was going to die from it,” said Vito Cicchetti, a director at Saint Clare’s Health, where the men worked. “After Izzy died, we all started getting scared for Kevin.”
Leiva, according to an obituary, “was always worried about his crew.” He was “very proud” of his work and was recalled to have said “becoming an EMT was an act of God.”
He met his wife, Marina, online while they were in high school. She moved a thousand miles to build a life with him. He loved spending time at their home, playing guitar and tending to his tegu lizards, AJ and Blue.
As COVID-19 ramped up, the station’s three ambulances each handled up to 15 dispatches a shift, roughly double the usual number. In a busy 12-hour shift, EMTs often responded to calls continuously, stopping only to decontaminate themselves and the truck.
Leiva “always had a joke” that helped to defuse stressful situations and bring his co-workers together, Cicchetti said.
— Michelle Andrews | Published May 1, 2020
Firefighting And ‘Helping People’ Were In His Blood
(Courtesy of the Terre Haute Fire Department)
Age: 41 Occupation: Paramedic and firefighter Place of Work: Terre Haute Fire Department in Terre Haute, Indiana Date of Death: April 12, 2020
John Schoffstall grew up around firehouses, and it was at his own firehouse in Terre Haute, Indiana, that he was exposed to the coronavirus.
A paramedic and firefighter with the Terre Haute Fire Department for almost 12 years, Schoffstall died April 12 at age 41. Deputy Chief Glen Hall said investigations by the county health department and his own department “determined John contracted the virus from another firefighter in the firehouse.” Four other firefighters “had symptoms but none progressed.”
“We respond every day to potential COVID patients,” Hall said.
Jennifer Schoffstall, his wife of 18 years, said her husband went to the hospital March 28.
“His breathing was so bad in the ER, they just decided to keep him,” she said. “He regressed from there.”
Hall said Schoffstall’s “biggest hobby was his family,” with a son, 17, and a daughter, 13.
Schoffstall’s father had been a volunteer firefighter, Jennifer said, and her husband signed up for the New Goshen Volunteer Fire Department when he turned 18.
“He loved the fire service and everything about it,” she said. “He loved helping people.”
— Sharon Jayson | Published May 1, 2020
Boston Nurse, A Former Bus Driver, Was A Champion For Education
(Courtesy of Teadris Pope)
Age: 63 Occupation: Nurse Place of Work: New England Baptist Hospital in Boston Date of Death: April 12, 2020
Rose Taldon was just 5 feet tall. But when she bellowed out the window, her kids ran right home.
“She didn’t take any crap,” said her daughter, Teadris Pope.
Taldon raised three children with her husband on the street where she grew up in Dorchester, Boston. She was respected as a strong black woman, earning a nursing degree while working in public transit for 23 years. Described as stern, she still was quick to tickle her eight grandkids.
Taldon was generous: Even as she lay in a hospital in April, exhausted from the coronavirus, she arranged to pay bills for an out-of-work friend, her daughter said.
It’s unclear whether Taldon caught the virus at her hospital, designated for non-COVID patients. Hospital officials said three patients and 22 staff have tested positive.
Once her mother was hospitalized, Pope couldn’t visit. On Easter morning, a doctor called at 2 a.m., offering to put Taldon on a video call.
“I just talked until I had no words,” Pope said. “I was just telling her, ‘We’re so proud of you. You worked so hard raising us. … You’ve gone through a hell of a fight.'”
An hour later, her mother was gone.
— Melissa Bailey | Published May 1, 2020
Unflappable First Responder With An Ever-Ready Smile
(Courtesy of Vito Cicchetti)
Israel Tolentino Jr.
Age: 33 Occupation: Emergency medical technician and firefighter Place of Work: Saint Clare’s Health and the Passaic Fire Department, both in Passaic, New Jersey Date of Death: March 31, 2020
When Israel Tolentino Jr. arrived for his EMT shift one morning in March, he seemed fine. Then he got a headache. Then a fever came on, and he was sent home, said Vito Cicchetti, a director at Saint Clare’s Health.
Izzy, as he was called, was an EMT who fulfilled his dream to become a firefighter. In 2018, the former Marine took a job with the Passaic Fire Department but kept up shifts at Saint Clare’s.
He was husband to Maria Vazquez, whom he’d met at church, according to nj.com. They had two young children.
The work pace could be brutal during the pandemic. In a 12-hour shift, Tolentino and his partner were dispatched to one emergency after another, each typically lasting under an hour but requiring nearly that long to decontaminate their gear and truck.
Izzy died in hospital care. The coronavirus tore through his EMT team. Most eventually recovered. But his friend and co-worker Kevin Leiva also died.
Izzy’s unflappable, cheerful presence is missed, Cicchetti said: “No matter how mad you were, he’d come up with a smile and you’d be chuckling to yourself.”
Cicchetti hasn’t replaced either man: “I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet.”
— Michelle Andrews | Published May 1, 2020
Their Decade-Long Dream Marriage Ends In Nightmare
(Courtesy of the Detroit Fire Department)
Capt. Franklin Williams
Age: 57 Occupation: Firefighter and medical first responder Place of Work: Detroit Fire Department in Detroit Date of Death: April 8, 2020
Capt. Franklin Williams stood at the altar on his wedding day and pretended to hunt for the ring. He patted his chest, then his pants legs and looked up at his soon-to-be wife with a million-dollar smile.
He was always clowning and “so silly,” said Shanita Williams, his wife, recalling how he wanted to make her laugh. Williams, 57, died from complications of the novel coronavirus on April 8 — one month before the couple’s 10-year wedding anniversary.
Williams had been on an emergency call with a verified COVID patient before falling ill, according to Detroit Fire Department Chief Robert Distelrath. He died in the line of duty.
Crews are equipped with personal protective equipment including a gown, N95 mask and gloves. But it’s easy for a mask to slip ― “when you’re giving [chest] compressions, your mask isn’t staying in place all the time,” said Thomas Gehart, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association.
When Williams fell sick on March 24, he moved to the guest bedroom and never returned to work.
“I’m thankful and thank God for having him in my life,” Shanita said, adding that she keeps hoping this is a nightmare and she’ll soon wake up.
— Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News | Published May 1, 2020
A 9/11 First Responder, He Answered The Call During The Pandemic
(Courtesy of the Valley Stream Fire Department)
Age: 59 Occupation: Volunteer emergency medical technician Place of Work: Village of Valley Stream on New York’s Long Island Date of Death: April 8, 2020
Mike Field had a strong sense of civic duty. An emergency medical technician, he was a first responder with the New York Fire Department (FDNY) on 9/11. He was also a member of his community’s all-volunteer fire department since 1987.
After he retired from FDNY in 2002, he took a job making and posting street signs with his local public works department. He continued to volunteer with Valley Stream’s fire department and mentoring the junior fire department. When he wasn’t responding to emergencies or training future emergency technicians, he led a Boy Scout troop and volunteered for animal causes.
“Here’s somebody who cares about the community and cares about its people,” said Valley Stream’s mayor, Ed Fare, who had known Mike since the seventh grade.
Stacey Field, Mike’s wife, said he found his calling early, after his own father experienced a heart attack. “When the fire department EMTs came and helped his dad, he decided that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.
Their three sons ― Steven, 26; Richie, 22; and Jason, 19 — have followed in their father’s footsteps. Steven and Richie are EMTs in New York; Jason plans on training to become one as well. All three volunteer at the same fire station their father did.
In late March, Mike and fellow volunteer responders were called to an emergency involving a patient showing symptoms of COVID-19. Field died on April 8.
— Sharon Jayson | Published April 29, 2020
Nurse Fought For His Life In Same ICU Where He Cared For Patients
(Courtesy of Romielyn Guillermo)
Ali Dennis Guillermo
Age: 44 Occupation: Nurse Place of Work: Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue, New York Date of Death: April 7, 2020
In 2004, Ali Dennis Guillermo, his wife, Romielyn, and their daughter came to New York from the Philippines to find a better life.
Everything fell into place. The former nursing instructor landed a job at Long Island Community Hospital, often working in intensive care or the emergency room. He enjoyed the intensity of ER work, his wife said. As years passed, the couple had two sons and settled into a close-knit Filipino community.
As COVID-19 emerged, Guillermo was posted to the step-down floor, working with patients transitioning out of intensive care.
A lot of the nurses on his floor had gotten sick with the virus, his wife said, and “everybody was scared.”
And then, Guillermo felt achy, with a fever that soared to 102. He went to the hospital and X-rays were taken, but he was sent home. Within days, his blood oxygen level plummeted.
“My nails are turning blue,” he told his wife. “You should take me to the ER.”
He was admitted that night in late March, and they never spoke again.
In the ICU unit where he’d often worked, Guillermo was intubated and treated. Nearly two weeks later, he died.
— Michelle Andrews | Published April 29, 2020
An Eager Student, He Aimed To Become A Physician Assistant
(Courtesy of Catrisha House-Phelps)
Age: 40 Occupation: Registered nurse Place of Work: Omni Continuing Care nursing home in Detroit Date of Death: March 31, 2020
James House had a voracious appetite for learning about and a fascination with the human body.
His sister, Catrisha House-Phelps, traces it back to childhood visits to a dialysis center where their father received treatments. “That was what tugged at his heart,” she said. “He just always wanted to know ‘why.’”
House-Phelps said her brother adored his five children, treasured his anatomy and physiology books and got a kick out of the residents he cared for at Omni Continuing Care. “He thought they were family; he just said they were funny people,” she said. He had hoped to go back to school to become a physician assistant.
House came down with what he thought was the flu in mid-March. His sister said he tried to get tested for COVID-19 but was turned away because he was not showing textbook symptoms and had no underlying health issues. On March 31, after resting at home for over a week, House returned to work. Hours later, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
He texted his sister with updates on his condition. “I’m about to be intubated now,” he wrote. It was the last message he sent her.
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 29, 2020
She Loved A Parade And Catering To Patients
Pamela Hughes and her daughter, Brie(Courtesy of Angie McAllister)
Age: 50 Occupation: Nursing home medication aide Place of Work: Signature HealthCARE at Summit Manor in Columbia, Kentucky Date of Death: April 13, 2020
Pamela Hughes lived her entire life in rural Columbia, Kentucky, but longed for wide, sandy beaches. For vacation, Hughes and her daughter, Brie, 26, eagerly drove 14 hours to Daytona Beach, Florida, or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
After high school, Hughes worked at Summit Manor, a nursing home in Columbia, for 32 years. She knew which residents preferred chocolate milk or applesauce with their medication; she remembered their favorite outfits and colors. Hughes’ shy demeanor vanished each December when she and co-worker Angie McAllister built a float for the town’s Christmas parade competition.
“We built 10 floats over 10 years,” McAllister said. “We got second place every year.”
Even after several residents tested positive for the coronavirus, Hughes dismissed her worsening cough as allergies or bronchitis. The nursing home was short on help and she wanted to serve her patients, Brie said.
Days later, the public health department suggested her mother get tested. She tested positive, and her health worsened — food tasted bitter, her fever soared, her hearing dulled. On April 10, Hughes was taken by ambulance to a hospital, then by helicopter to Jewish Hospital in Louisville. Barred from visiting, Brie said goodbye over FaceTime.
— Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News | Published April 29, 2020
The Family Matriarch And ‘We’re Failing Miserably Without Her’
(Courtesy of Ginu John)
Age: 65 Occupation: Registered nurse Place of Work: Queens Hospital Center in New York City Date of Death: April 5, 2020
Aleyamma John’s family wanted her to retire. Her husband, Johnny, an MTA transit worker, had stopped working a few years earlier. He and their son Ginu urged her to follow suit. “We told her, ‘I’m sure Dad wants to see the world with you — you need to give him that opportunity,’” Ginu said.
She demurred. “I think she found fulfillment in being able to serve,” Ginu said. “She was able to hold people’s hands, you know, even when they were deteriorating and be there for them.” She began her career as a nurse in India 45 years ago; she and her husband emigrated to the United Arab Emirates, where their two sons were born, and moved to New York in 2002.
Ginu said his mother, a devout Christian, found joy in tending to her vegetable garden and doting on her two grandchildren. She cooked dishes from her native India and filled the Long Island home she shared with Johnny, Ginu and Ginu’s family with flowers.
In March, as Queens Hospital Center began to swell with COVID-19 patients, John sent her family a photo of herself and colleagues wearing surgical hats and masks but not enough personal protective equipment. Days later, she developed a fever and tested positive for the virus. Johnny, Ginu and Ginu’s wife, Elsa, a nurse practitioner, also became ill.
When John’s breathing became labored, her family made the difficult decision to call 911. It would be the last time they saw her. “We’re 17 days in, and I feel like we’re failing miserably without her,” Ginu said.
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 29, 2020
‘A Kind Man’ Looking Forward To Retirement
(Courtesy of Jesse Soto)
Age: 59 Occupation: Radiology clerk Place of Work: Woodhull Medical Center, a public hospital in Brooklyn, New York Date of Death: April 7, 2020
After more than 30 years at one of New York City’s busy public hospitals, Thomas Soto loved his job but was looking forward to retiring, said his son, Jesse Soto, who lived with him.
At Soto’s busy station near the emergency room, he greeted patients and took down their information.
“Everybody saw him before their X-rays,” Soto, 29, said. “He smiled all day, made jokes. He was a kind man.”
As COVID patients began to overwhelm Woodhull and other emergency rooms across the city, Soto said that at first his father didn’t have any protective gear.
He eventually got a mask. But he still grew very sick, developing a high fever, body aches and a wracking cough. After a week, Soto said, “he couldn’t take it anymore.”
He went to Woodhull, where he was admitted. When they tried to put him on a ventilator two days later, he died. The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.
— Michelle Andrews | Published April 29, 2020
‘Blooming’ In Her First Job On Path To Becoming A Nurse
(Courtesy of the Viveros family via GoFundMe)
Age: 20 Occupation: Nursing assistant Place of Work: Extended Care Hospital of Riverside, California Date of Death: April 5, 2020
At 20 years old, Valeria Viveros was “barely blooming,” developing the skills and ambition to pursue a nursing career, said Gustavo Urrea, her uncle. Working at Extended Care Hospital of Riverside was her first job.
Viveros, born in California to Mexican immigrants, grew attached to her patients at the nursing home, bringing them homemade ceviche, Urrea said. About a month ago, as he watched her cook, play and joke with her grandmother, he noticed how much her social skills had grown.
When she would say “Hi, Tío,” in her playful, sweet, high-pitched voice, “it was like the best therapy you could have,” Urrea recalled. Viveros, who lived with her parents and two siblings, was enrolled in classes at a community college.
Viveros felt sick on March 30, went to a nearby hospital and was sent home with Tylenol, Urrea said. By April 4, she couldn’t get out of bed on her own. She left in an ambulance and never came back.
“We’re all destroyed,” he said. “I can’t even believe it.”
On April 5, county health officials reported a coronavirus outbreak had sickened 30 patients and some staff at her nursing home. Trent Evans, general counsel for Extended Care, said staffers are heartbroken by her death.
Viveros was “head over heels in love with the residents that she served,” he said. “She was always there for them.”
— Melissa Bailey | Published April 29, 2020
Surgical Technician Made Friends Everywhere She Went
(Courtesy of Jorge Casarez)
Monica Echeverri Casarez
Age: 49 Occupation: Surgical technician Place of Work: Detroit Medical Center Harper University Hospital in Detroit Date of Death: April 11, 2020
Monica Echeverri Casarez was in constant motion, said her husband, Jorge Casarez. The daughter of Colombian immigrants, she worked as a Spanish-English interpreter in clinical settings. She was the kind of person whose arrival at a mom and pop restaurant would elicit hugs from the owners. She also co-founded Southwest Detroit Restaurant Week, a nonprofit that supports local businesses.
Twice a month, she scrubbed in as a surgical technician at Harper University Hospital. “She liked discovering the beauty of how the body works and how science is clear and orderly,” Casarez said. She was organized and intuitive, qualities that are assets in the operating room. On March 21, she posted a photo of herself in protective gear with the caption: “I’d be lying if I said I wan’t at least a bit nervous to be there now.” Since many elective surgeries had been canceled, Echeverri Casarez was tasked with taking the temperatures of people who walked into the hospital and making sure their hands were sterilized.
Soon after, Echeverri Casarez and Casarez began feeling ill. Quarantined together, Echeverri Casarez tried to make the best of the situation. She baked her husband a cake — chocolate with white frosting. She died a few days later.
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 24, 2020
A Whip-Smart Neurologist Endlessly Fascinated With The Brain
(Courtesy of Jennifer Sclar)
Age: 66 Occupation: Neurologist Place of Work: Mount Sinai Queens in New York City Date of Death: April 12, 2020
Gary Sclar was a whip-smart neurologist who loved comic books, “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars,” said his daughter, Jennifer Sclar. He was deeply compassionate with a blunt bedside manner.
“My dad was fascinated with the brain and with science,” Jennifer Sclar said. “His work was his passion, and it’s what made him the happiest, besides my brother and me.” Set to retire in June, he was looking forward to writing about politics and neurology.
Gary Sclar saw patients who were showing COVID-19 symptoms and knew his age and underlying health conditions ― he had diabetes — put him at risk for developing complications from the illness. His daughter pleaded with him to stop going to the hospital.
In early April, he mentioned having lost his sense of smell, and on April 8 he collapsed in his home. He was hospitalized a few days later and agreed to be intubated. “I don’t think he realized, like, that this was the end,” Jennifer Sclar said. “He brought his keys. He brought his wallet.”
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 24, 2020
An Exacting But Loving Aunt, She Was A Mentor Until The End
(Courtesy of Jhoanna Mariel Buendia)
Araceli Buendia Ilagan
Age: 63 Occupation: Intensive care unit nurse Place of Work: Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami Date of Death: March 27, 2020
For Jhoanna Mariel Buendia, her aunt was a constant ― if distant — presence. Araceli Buendia Ilagan emigrated from their hometown Baguio, in the Philippines, to the U.S. before Buendia was born, but she remained close to her family and communicated with them nearly every day.
“She was one of the smartest people I ever knew,” Buendia, 27, said. Buendia Ilagan, who at one point looked into adopting her niece so she could join her and her husband the United States, encouraged Buendia to become a nurse, and talked her through grueling coursework in anatomy and physiology. Buendia is now a nurse in London.
Buendia Ilagan was also demanding. “Whenever she visited the Philippines, she wanted everything to be organized and squeaky-clean,” Buendia said.
The last time the two spoke, in late March, Buendia Ilagan didn’t mention anything about feeling ill. Instead, the two commiserated over their experiences of treating patients with COVID-19; as always, her aunt offered her advice on staying safe while giving the best possible care. She died four days later.
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 22, 2020
A Beloved Geriatric Psychiatrist And Church Musician Remembered For His Cooking Skills
(Courtesy of Nida Gonzales)
Leo Dela Cruz
Age: 57 Occupation: Geriatric psychiatrist Place of Work: Christ Hospital and CarePoint Health in Jersey City, New Jersey Date of Death: April 8, 2020
Dr. Leo Dela Cruz was nervous about going to work in the weeks before he died, his friends said. Like many in the region, Christ Hospital had an influx of COVID-19 patients and faced a shortage of ventilators and masks.
Dela Cruz was a geriatric psychiatrist and didn’t work in coronavirus wards. But he continued to see patients in person. In early April, Dela Cruz, who lived alone, complained only of migraines, his friends said. Within a week, his condition worsened, and he was put on a ventilator at a nearby hospital. He died soon after.
Friends said he may have been exposed at the hospital. (In a statement, hospital representatives said he didn’t treat COVID-19 patients.)
Dela Cruz, the oldest of 10 siblings, came from a family of health care professionals. His friends and family — from Cebu, Philippines, to Teaneck, New Jersey — remembered his jovial personality on Facebook. He won “best doctor of the year” awards, played tennis and cooked traditional Cebu dishes.
Nida Gonzales, a colleague, said he always supported people, whether funding a student’s education or running a church mental health program. “I feel like I lost a brother,” she said.
— Ankita Rao, The Guardian | Published April 22, 2020
Alabama Nurse Remembered As Selfless But Sassy
(Courtesy of Amanda Williams)
Age: 60 Occupation: Nurse Place of Work: Marion Regional Nursing Home in Hamilton, Alabama Date of Death: April 6, 2020
Rose Harrison, 60, lived to serve others ― her husband, three daughters, grandchildren and the residents of the nursing home where she worked. Though the Alabama nurse was selfless, she also had a sassy edge to her personality and a penchant for road rage, her daughter, Amanda Williams said.
“Her personality was so funny, you automatically loved her,” Williams said. “She was so outspoken. If she didn’t agree with you, she’d tell you in a respectful way.”
Harrison was not wearing a mask when she cared for a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19 at Marion Regional Nursing Home in Hamilton, Alabama, her daughter said. She later developed a cough, fatigue and a low-grade fever, but kept reporting to duty all week. Officials from the nursing home did not return calls for comment.
On April 3, Williams drove her mother to a hospital. The following evening, Harrison discussed the option of going on a ventilator with loved ones on a video call, agreeing it was the best course. Williams believed that her mother fully expected to recover. She died April 6.
— Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published April 22, 2020
Connecticut Social Worker Had Angelic Singing Voice And A Zest For Life
(Courtesy of the Hunt family)
Age: 57 Occupation: Social worker Places of Work: Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center and New Reach, both in New Haven, Connecticut Date of Death: March 23, 2020
At a shelter for adults recovering from addiction, residents looked forward to the days when Marion “Curtis” Hunt would take the stage, emceeing talent shows and belting out Broadway and gospel tunes.
It wasn’t part of his job description as a social worker. It was just one of the ways he went “above and beyond,” said his supervisor at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, Daena Murphy. “He had a beautiful voice,” she said. “He was just a wonderful person — funny, engaging, always a huge smile on his face.”
Hunt, the youngest of four brothers, earned his master’s in social work from Fordham University at 52, and was baptized at his brother’s Pentecostal church at 54. He was a devoted uncle who doted on his dog and cat, Mya and Milo.
It’s unclear how Hunt got infected, but one patient he worked with had tested positive for COVID-19, as did two co-workers, according to Dr. Ece Tek, another supervisor at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center. Hunt died on March 23, one week after developing flu-like symptoms, said his brother John Mann Jr.
— Melissa Bailey | Published April 22, 2020
To The End, King-Smith Was Driven By A Desire To Help Others
(Courtesy of Hassana Salaam-Rivers)
Age: 53 Occupation: Electrocardiogram technician Place of Work: University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey Date of Death: March 31, 2020
Kim King-Smith was a natural caregiver. An only child, she grew up close to her extended family, including her cousins Hassana Salaam-Rivers and Sharonda Salaam. After Salaam developed multiple sclerosis, King-Smith visited her every day.
“She’d bring her sweets that she wasn’t supposed to have and share them with her,” Salaam-Rivers said. King-Smith’s desire to care for others was the reason she became an electrocardiogram technician, her cousin added. “If a friend of a friend or family member went to the hospital, she would always go and visit them as soon as her shift was over,” she said.
In March, King-Smith cared for a patient she said had symptoms of COVID-19; she soon fell ill herself and tested positive for the virus. It seemed like a mild case at first, and she stayed in touch with family via FaceTime while trying to isolate from her husband, Lenny.
On March 29, Salaam-Rivers checked in on her cousin and noticed she was struggling to breathe. She urged her to call an ambulance. After King-Smith was hospitalized, she exchanged text messages with her mother and cousin. As the day progressed, her messages carried increasingly grave news, Salaam-Rivers said. Then she stopped responding.
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 22, 2020
On The Eve Of Retirement, VA Nurse Succumbs To COVID-19
(Courtesy of Mark Accad)
Age: 72 Occupation: Clinical nursing coordinator Place of Work: Detroit VA Medical Center in Detroit, Michigan Date of Death: March 30, 2020
Nurse Divina “Debbie” Accad had cared for veterans for over 25 years and was set to retire in April. But after contracting the novel coronavirus, she spent her final 11 days on a ventilator — and didn’t survive past March.
She joined a growing list of health care professionals working on the front lines of the pandemic who have died from COVID-19.
Accad, 72, a clinical nursing coordinator at the Detroit VA Medical Center, dedicated her life to nursing, according to her son Mark Accad.
“She died doing what she loved most,” he said. “That was caring for people.”
— Melissa Bailey | Published April 15, 2020
California Nurse Thrived In ER and ICU, But Couldn’t Survive COVID-19
Jeff Baumbach and his wife, Karen(Courtesy of the Baumbach family)
Age: 57 Occupation: Nurse Place of Work: St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, California Date of Death: March 31, 2020
Jeff Baumbach, 57, was a seasoned nurse of 28 years when the novel coronavirus began to circulate in California. He’d worked in the ER, the ICU and on a cardiac floor. Hepatitis and tuberculosis had been around over the years but never posed a major concern. He’d cared for patients who had tuberculosis.
Jeff and his wife, Karen Baumbach, also a nurse, initially didn’t consider it significantly riskier than challenges they’d faced for years.
“He’d worked in the ICU. He was exposed to so many things, and we never got anything,” she said. “This was just ramping up.”
One day during work, Jeff sent a sarcastic text to his wife: “I love wearing a mask every day.”
Within weeks, he would wage a difficult and steady fight against the virus that ended with a sudden collapse.
— Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published April 15, 2020
Nurse’s Faith Led Her To Care For Prisoners At A New Jersey Jail
(Courtesy of Denise Rendor)
Age: 60 Occupation: Nurse Place of Work: Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, New Jersey Date of Death: April 5, 2020
Daisy Doronila had a different perspective than most who worked at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, a New Jersey lockup 11 miles from Manhattan. It was a place where the veteran nurse could put her Catholic faith into action, showing kindness to marginalized people.
“There would be people there for the most heinous crimes,” said her daughter, Denise Rendor, 28, “but they would just melt towards my mother because she really was there to give them care with no judgment.”
Doronila, 60, died April 5, two weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The jail has been hit hard by the virus, with 27 inmates and 68 staff members having tested positive. Among those, another nurse, a correctional officer and a clerk also died, according to Ron Edwards, Hudson County’s director of corrections.
Doronila fell ill before the scope of the jail infections were known. She was picking up extra shifts in the weeks before, her daughter said, and planning on a trip to Israel soon with friends from church.
That plan began to fall apart March 14, when someone at the jail noticed her coughing and asked her to go home and visit a doctor.
— Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published April 15, 2020
An Army Veteran, Hospital Custodian ‘Loved Helping People’
(Courtesy of Michelle Wilcox)
Age: 54 Occupation: Environmental service assistant Place of Work: Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, New York Death: March 17, 2020
Alvin Simmons started working as a custodian at Rochester General Hospital, in New York state, weeks before he fell ill. “He loved helping people and he figured the best place to do that would be in a hospital,” his sister, Michelle Wilcox said.
An Army veteran who had served in the first Gulf War, Simmons loved karaoke and doted on his three grandchildren, Wilcox said. “He was a dedicated, hardworking individual who had just changed his life around” since a prison stint, she said.
According to Wilcox, Simmons began developing symptoms shortly after cleaning the room of a woman he believed was infected with the novel coronavirus. “Other hospital employees did not want to clean the room because they said they weren’t properly trained” to clean the room of someone potentially infected, she said. “They got my brother from a different floor, because he had just started there,” she said. (In an email, a hospital spokesperson said they had “no evidence to suggest that Mr. Simmons was at a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 by virtue of his training or employment duties at RGH.”)
On March 11, he visited the emergency room at Rochester General, where he was tested for COVID-19, Wilcox said. Over the next few days, as he rested at his girlfriend’s home, his breathing became more labored and he began to cough up blood. He was rushed to the hospital on March 13, where he was later declared brain-dead. Subsequently, he received a COVID-19 diagnosis. Simmons died on March 17.
— Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 15, 2020
Nurse At Nevada VA Dies After Caring For Infected Colleague
(Courtesy of Bob Thompson)
Age: 52 Occupation: Nurse Places of Work: VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System and Northern Nevada Medical Center in Reno, Nevada Date of Death: April 7, 2020
Nurse Vianna Thompson, 52, spent two night shifts caring for a fellow Veterans Affairs health care worker who was dying from COVID-19.
Two weeks later, she too was lying in a hospital intensive care unit, with a co-worker holding her hand as she died.
Thompson and the man she treated were among three VA health care workers in Reno, Nevada, to die in two weeks from complications of the novel coronavirus.
“It’s pretty devastating. It’s surreal. Reno’s not that big of a city,” said Robyn Underhill, a night nurse who worked with Thompson in the ER at Reno’s VA hospital the past two years.
Thompson, who dreamed of teaching nursing one day, died April 7, joining a growing list of health care professionals killed in the pandemic.
— Melissa Bailey | Published April 15, 2020
Dr. J. Ronald Verrier Was Busy Saving Lives Before The Pandemic
(Courtesy of Christina Pardo)
J. Ronald Verrier
Age: 59 Occupation: Surgeon Place of Work: St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, New York Date of Death: April 8, 2020
Dr. J. Ronald Verrier, a surgeon at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, spent the final weeks of his audacious, unfinished life tending to a torrent of patients inflicted with COVID-19. He died April 8 at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, New York, at age 59, after falling ill from the novel coronavirus.
Verrier led the charge even as the financially strapped St. Barnabas Hospital struggled to find masks and gowns to protect its workers — many nurses continue to make cloth masks — and makeshift morgues in the parking lot held patients who had died.
“He did a good work,” said Jeannine Sherwood, a nurse manager at St. Barnabas Hospital who worked closely with Verrier.
“He can rest.”
— Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News | Published April 15, 2020
America’s First ER Doctor To Die In The Heat Of COVID-19 Battle
(Courtesy of Debra Vasalech Lyons)
Age: 60 Occupation: Doctor Places of Work: St. John’s Episcopal in Queens, New York, and East Orange General in New Jersey Date of Death: March 26, 2020
At about 5 a.m. on March 19, a New York City ER physician named Frank Gabrin texted a friend about his concerns over the lack of medical supplies at hospitals.
“It’s busy ― everyone wants a COVID test that I do not have to give them,” he wrote in the message to Eddy Soffer. “So they are angry and disappointed.”
Worse, though, was the limited availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) — the masks and gloves that help keep health care workers from getting sick and spreading the virus to others. Gabrin said he had no choice but to don the same mask for several shifts, against Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
“Don’t have any PPE that has not been used,” he wrote. “No N95 masks ― my own goggles — my own face shield,” he added, referring to the N95 respirators considered among the best lines of defense.
Less than two weeks later, Gabrin became the first ER doctor in the U.S. known to have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.
— Alastair Gee, The Guardian | Published April 10, 2020
This story is part of “Lost on the Frontline,” an ongoing project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of health care workers in the U.S. who die from COVID-19, and to investigate why so many are victims of the disease. If you have a colleague or loved one we should include, please share their story.