Sister: COVID Altered Brain of ER Doctor Who Killed Herself

She says Lorna Breen faced 'most horrific, unimaginable conditions'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2020 10:10 AM CDT
Sister: COVID Altered Brain of ER Doctor Who Killed Herself
The pandemic has killed more than 18,000 people in New York City.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

A New York City emergency room doctor who died by suicide after working at a hospital inundated with COVID-19 cases pushed herself past the breaking point because she wanted to help as many people as possible, relatives say. Jennifer Feist tells Today that Dr. Lorna Breen took a week and a half off work at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, where she oversaw the emergency room, after becoming infected. "Then she went back to the most horrific, unimaginable conditions," said Feist. "And for somebody whose life's calling is helping people, and she just couldn't help enough people. And the combination was just untenable." Feist says she believes the virus altered her sister's brain, making it even harder to cope with working 12-hour shifts during the pandemic.

"She said it was like Armageddon," Feist says. "She said, 'There are so many sick people everywhere.'" Feist says she urged her sister to rest more and take better care of herself, but "she would not give up. She would not let it break her, which, of course, it did." Breen, 49, took her own life after family members brought her back to Charlottesville, Va. Loice Swisher, an emergency room physician in Philadelphia, tells the Washington Post that she fears there will be more cases like Breen's during the pandemic. She says physicians are especially vulnerable to suicide, but are often reluctant to seek help from other doctors. "We don’t want to be seen as a weak link," she says. "We don't want to be seen as incompetent or place an extra burden on our colleagues." (More coronavirus stories.)

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