Sister of NYC doctor who died by suicide: COVID ‘altered her brain’
The sister of Dr. Lorna Breen, the New York emergency physician who died by suicide this week, said COVID-19 “altered” Breen’s brain.
Jennifer Feist, Breen’s sister, said Breen worked through “unimaginable conditions” in the weeks leading to her death.
She and her husband Corey appeared on “The Today Show” to speak about their sister’s life and death — as well as the stressful conditions frontline workers are enduring during the coronavirus pandemic.
When “Today Show” host Savannah Guthrie asked Feist whether Breen’s “strenuous” work conditions or her coronavirus diagnosis contributed to her sister’s death, she responded: “I know for myself in my heart that it was both.”
“She had COVID. And I believe that it altered her brain, and then she went back to the most horrific, unimaginable conditions,” Feist told Guthrie.
“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 said that Breen worked over 12-hour shifts through “Armageddon”-like conditions at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, and had to witness death around her without being able to help. She was also diagnosed with COVID-19 early into the pandemic.
“She said, ‘There are so many sick people everywhere.’” Feist said. “When she finished, she said, ‘I can’t leave. Nobody’s leaving. I have to stay and help.'”
It got to the point, she said, where Breen’s mental health affected her physically. Earlier this month, Breen called her sister and said she was unable to move from a chair — and had to be driven by friends and family from New York to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where she stayed for 11 days.
Breen moved in with her sister and brother-in-law at their home in Charlottesville, Virginia, when she died by suicide.
Feist told Guthrie that she hopes that speaking out will ignite further conversations about supporting the mental health and physical well-being of health care workers and other frontline workers.
“She couldn’t stop working, and she certainly couldn’t tell anybody she was struggling,” Feist said. “And that needs to be a conversation that changes. People need to be able to say they’re suffering and to take a break.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or find the online Lifeline Chat chat here.
Stressed, depressed, and feeling bad?:Where to get free help online
Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote