Dr. Frank Gabrin, a New Jersey emergency room physician and two-time cancer survivor, is the first American doctor to reportedly die of COVID-19, the respiratory illness that derives from the novel coronavirus, People Magazine reports. He was 60.
Gabrin worked at East Orange General Hospital. Like so many health care workers across the country, he battled the coronavirus pandemic on the front lines, and in the process, exposed himself to the virus.
On Tuesday, after five days of not feeling very well, he woke up with chest pains. His husband, Arnold Vargas, said that he called paramedics. Unfortunately, Gabrin died in Vargas’ arms before paramedics could arrive.
Vargas notes that Gabrin had not officially been tested for coronavirus, but that he (Gabrin) believed he had contracted it.
“He planned to go back to work when he recovered. It took only five days from the first sign of symptoms. We are devastated,” wrote Gabrin’s friend, Debra Vasalech Lyons.
Lyons further suggested that her friend might have survived the pandemic had he had access to the personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, that he needed — equipment that is in short supply lately.
“[Gabrin] lost his life needlessly because if he’d had the equipment — he’s a professional, he knew how to protect himself,” Lyons said.
Lyons went on to say that she hopes that her friend’s death will drive home the importance of manufacturing and delivering personal protective equipment to health care workers.
“They’re doing what they can even though they are putting themselves and most importantly their families at risk as well,” she said.
In a statement, Gabrin’s professional society, the American College of Emergency Physicians, also stressed the fact that health care workers are putting their lives on the line every day as they battle the coronavirus pandemic.
“Emergency physicians understand that sometimes in our efforts to save your life, we may end up sacrificing our own,” the group said, adding that its members are fighting the battle against the coronavirus with “insufficient protection.”
Gabrin, having been a cancer survivor, was especially vulnerable to contracting a fatal infection from the coronavirus, according to the National Cancer Institute. That’s because chemotherapy can weaken the patient’s immune system, leaving them more susceptible to diseases that otherwise healthy adults could easily fight off.
As of this writing, according to Worldometers, there are just over 257,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, and just over 6,500 Americans have died from it.