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UPDATED: 'A casualty of the war': ER doctor, 49, on coronavirus duty in New York kills herself in Virginia
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UPDATED: 'A casualty of the war': ER doctor, 49, on coronavirus duty in New York kills herself in Virginia

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Northam announces $2 million grant for mental health services

Family members of a prominent Manhattan emergency room doctor who died by suicide in Charlottesville say she was exhausted by her hospital’s battle with the coronavirus pandemic and her own bout with the disease.

Dr. Lorna Breen, 49, the medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, died from self-inflicted injuries Sunday at the University of Virginia Medical Center. She had been recuperating at her sister’s Charlottesville home.

“She gave what she had,” her father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, told the New York Daily News, “and she’s a casualty of the war in the trenches, as far as I’m concerned. She’s a true hero.”

Breen’s father said the crush of cases his daughter handled in one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 epicenters was overwhelming and that she herself became ill with the virus, though she went back to work after a week and a half. She had no history of depression, he said.

“She was a very outgoing, very energetic person who, I don’t know what snapped, but something blew up in her, and so she ended up taking her own life,” he said. “She just ran out of emotional gas.”

He said his daughter traveled to Charlottesville to stay with her sister after the hospital sent her home a second time.

“She stayed home about a week and a half, but I think she felt guilty about not being at work,” her father said. “The last time I talked to her was before she went in for her 12-hour shift that she couldn’t finish.

“Just before she went back, she said that the ambulance had been waiting outside the building for over three hours with sick people. They couldn’t even get the people out of the ambulances” before the patients died, he added.

Those terrifying scenes and her illness left her exhausted, he said.

In a statement Monday, Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian hailed the doctor’s tireless devotion to her work.

“Dr. Breen is a hero who brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department,” the statement said. “Words cannot convey the sense of loss we feel today.”

The statement added that the hospital is focusing on providing “support to her family, friends and colleagues as they cope with this news during what is already an extraordinarily difficult time.”

The Charlottesville Police Department also extended its condolences, with Police Chief RaShall Brackney saying that while first responders and medical personnel can wear protective gear, that does not make them immune to what they see.

“What [the gear] cannot protect heroes like Dr. Lorna Breen or our first responders against is the emotional and mental devastation caused by this disease,” Brackney said.

“On a daily basis,” the police chief added, “these professionals operate under the most stressful of circumstances, and the coronavirus has introduced additional stressors.”

Breen, a devout Christian who was one of four siblings, traveled the world to give lectures on emergency medicine, and to hike and snowboard, her grieving father said. She loved to volunteer, especially for the elderly.

“She was a salsa dancer, and she played the cello,” he said. “She was working on her master’s degree in business administration also.”

Breen loved New York City, he said. “I sort of hope that when this is over, there may be a wall of heroes in New York someplace. She should have her plaque on there. She gave it all for her city.”

The Charlottesville Albemarle Community Fund is administering the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Fund, which was created to provide mental health services to health care providers.

For those contemplating suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is reachable 24/7 at (800) 273-8255. You can also call 911 for help.

Several Charlottesville-area officials also shared information about the Virginia Community Response Network, which provides free telehealth services for front-line first responders and essential workers.

Information can be found on VCRN’s website, at www.vcrn.org, or by calling (434) 202-6322.

Information from The Daily Progress was used in this report.

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