Lost on the frontline is a collaboration between the Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of healthcare workers in the US who die from Covid-19, and to understand why so many are falling victim to the pandemic.
Each week, we’re documenting new cases of healthcare workers who have died on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. These are their stories:
Dulce Garcia, 29
‘There were so many things she had unfinished’
Occupation: Clinical interpreter
Place of work: University of North Carolina hospitals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Date of death: 26 May 2020
Dulce Garcia loved to dance. On weekends, she and her friends frequented the Luna Nightclub in Durham, where they would romp to bachata, merengue and reggaetón. “It was our ritual,” said Brittany Mathis.
She encouraged those unable to safely drive home to sleep over. “She was the group mom,” Mathis said. “She’d tell us: ‘We don’t want to lose anyone.’”
Garcia was also “the rock and foundation” for her family, Mathis said. As a teen, Garcia cared for siblings while her parents worked. She also volunteered at the neighborhood Boys & Girls Club.
When Garcia learned about the healthcare gaps faced by Spanish speakers, she joined the hospital as an interpreter. There, she was “surprised at how much she could help”, Mathis said, “and how many needed her”.
The week after she picked up a Sunday shift, she developed a fever. Mathis was not sure whether she received personal protective equipment. “Our PPE policies have always followed CDC guidance,” the hospital said through a spokesperson.
The symptoms persisted, Mathis said. “It just doesn’t feel real. There were so many things she had unfinished.”
– Eli Cahan
Alex Bass, 52
A physician assistant and mentor to hospital residents
Occupation: Physician assistant
Place of work: NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York
Date of death: 10 April 2020
Alex Bass was a physician assistant, but his patients all called him “Dr Bass,” a title his supervisor said was well-deserved.
“His patients often sent us letters, thanking us for the services that he provided and saying how great he was,” said Dr Abdo Kabarriti, chief of urology at Coney Island hospital.
Bass studied medicine in his native Ukraine before immigrating to the United States in his mid-20s. Rather than repeat his studies in order to practice medicine in the US, he became a licensed physician assistant. His expertise led him to become a mentor to numerous urology residents.
“He helped a lot of people really become who they are today,” Kabarriti said.
When Bass developed a fever in mid-March, he called in sick and saw Dr Alexander Beylinson, his physician and friend of 26 years.
Beylinson tested him for Covid-19 and sent him to the hospital. The test came back positive and he was soon put on a ventilator.
The hospital did not comment on whether Bass had worked with Covid-19 patients.
Bass’s family held a funeral with 10 guests; Beylinson, who attended, said it was strange to have such a small and short service for the man he considers his hero.
– Shoshana Dubnow
Antonia ‘Tony’ Sisemore, 72
A smiling nursing assistant who worked into her 70s
Occupation: Certified nursing assistant
Place of work: Stollwood convalescent hospital at St John’s Retirement Village, Woodland, California
Date of death: 30 April 2020
Antonia Sisemore always wore a smile – around her family, at church and at her job at a retirement home, where she worked through the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Facebook post, her colleagues called her “one of our most talented and dedicated CNAs”. She worked “tirelessly and unfailingly to deliver care, compassion, and love to those more vulnerable than herself”, it said. (Her family declined to be interviewed for this article.)
Comments remarking on her kindness and work ethic poured in from patients and their families. “She went the extra mile to [make] sure I had what I needed and was comfortable,” wrote a former patient. “Tony was one of my mother’s caregivers,” wrote another Facebook user. “She was selfless … it breaks my heart that the residents will no longer have her.” Some mentioned that Sisemore cheered people up with her sense of humor, “I remembered you [danced] in front of me,” another former patient wrote.
Sisemore’s obituary says she battled Covid-19 for four weeks after passing away from complications from the virus. The nursing home where Sisemore worked reported 66 confirmed cases and 17 deaths according to county data. Over half the infections were in staff members. The facility did not respond to requests for comment.
– Anna Jean Kaiser
Adlin Thomspon, 56
A nurse, family linchpin and generous aunt
Occupation: Certified nursing assistant and endoscopy technician
Place of work: New York-Presbyterian hospital and Isabella Center for nursing and rehabilitation, New York
Date of Death: 24 April 2020
Adlin Thompson had 20 siblings and more than 30 nieces and nephews. Like her, many of them immigrated to New York City from St Kitts and Nevis in the early 1980s. With such a large family, it was difficult to keep track of everyone, said Adlin’s son, Mario Thompson. But Adlin did – she was the glue who kept the family together.
Adlin worked long hours between her two jobs. When she wasn’t at the nursing home or the hospital, she visited family, and “never came home empty-handed”, often toting gifts of socks or perfume, Mario said.
Adlin cared for patients who had been diagnosed with Covid-19 at both of her jobs. She was always covered in protective gear, said Mario. Still, he worried that her asthma made her particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Mario believes she contracted the virus at the nursing home, where he said she had more direct contact with patients.
A spokesperson for the facility said it “followed state guidelines as it relates to infection prevention and control procedures”.
Adlin died four days after testing positive for Covid-19. She was alone in her home, preparing to go to the hospital.
– Lila Hassan