A hospital interpreter, a nurse ‘who made everything fun’: US healthcare workers who died of Covid-19 in May

A hospital interpreter, a nurse ‘who made everything fun’: US healthcare workers who died of Covid-19 in May

We are documenting the lives of every US medical worker who dies helping patients during the pandemic. These are those who died from Covid-19 in May

  • Our complete updated list of confirmed deaths is here
  • If you know of a healthcare worker who died fighting coronavirus that we should include, please contact us

America’s healthcare workers are dying. From doctors to hospital cleaners and from nursing home aides to paramedics, those most at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus have already helped save thousands of lives.

KHN

Hospitals are overwhelmed, workers lack protective equipment and some staff suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to this pernicious virus.

Health authorities in the US have no consistent way of tallying the deaths of healthcare workers. As of early June the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 383 deaths among health workers – but acknowledges that tally is an undercount.

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.

These are some of the frontline health workers who died in May. You can also read about health workers who died in March and April.

Photograph:

Dulce Garcia. Photograph: Brittany Mathis

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

Photograph:

Shenetta White-Ballard Photograph: Eddie Ballard

Shenetta White-Ballard, 44
Psychiatric nurse knew her patients’ home towns and hobbies 

Age: 44
Occupation:
Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Legacy nursing and rehabilitation of Port Allen, Louisiana
Date of death: 1 May 2020

Eddie Ballard was baking a pecan pie at the Piccadilly Cafeteria in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when Shenetta White leaned over the buffet counter to grab a Jell-O.

“She gave me this look,” Ballard said, and he gathered the confidence to ask for her number. On their first date he quickly realized “not only was she beautiful, but she was mature beyond her years”.

That maturity manifested across her life.

As a nurse to psychiatric patients, she was adored by those she “saw as people more than just patients”, Ballard said. She knew their parents’ names, their home towns and hobbies. At home, White-Ballard was “queen of the house”, Ballard said. She handled the errands and the finances, while “her two boys [Ballard and his son, Warren] hung on whatever she asked”.

Due to a prior illness, White-Ballard depended on supplemental oxygen. She died on 1 May, just three days after developing Covid-19 symptoms.

In an email, a Legacy spokesperson wrote that the facility had followed all guidelines and “had more than enough PPE”. 

The first piece of jewelry Ballard bought his wife was a bracelet that read: “Love is patient, love is kind, love never ends.”

“I hadn’t read that in 11 years,” he said, “but boy, it’s still true.”

– Eli Cahan

Photograph:


Maria Lopez Photograph: Family of Maria Lopez

Maria E. Lopez, 63 
A robotic surgery expert who ‘just made everything fun’

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago, Illinois
Date of death: 4 May 2020

“What lady? I don’t see a lady here.”

That was the sort of self-deprecating comment Maria E. Lopez would fire back when teased by a co-worker about an etiquette faux pas in the operating room.

Lopez knew how to break the tension, said chief nurse anesthetist Mary Ann Zervakis Brent. Lopez called everyone amigo or amiga, regardless of rank.

“She just made everything fun,” Zervakis Brent said.

Lopez was an expert in robotic surgery and trained others to use the equipment.

She taught her two daughters to be independent. The oldest of nine children, Lopez defied her father’s expectation that she forgo college, said her daughter Maria Lopez.

Lopez’s symptoms appeared days after she returned to work from leave for knee surgery. She planned to retire on 30 April.

The hospital said it implemented universal masking for patients and staff on March 27 and has made available particle-filtering masks to staff.

In the hospital, Lopez tried to stay positive. Yet during one FaceTime call, her daughter said, “She just broke down. She said, ‘I wouldn’t want anyone I love going through what I’m going through right now.’”

A hospital official confirmed that Lopez was one of three employees who died of complications of Covid-19; they said the hospital provided adequate PPE, in line with CDC guidance.

— Mary Chris Jaklevic

Photograph:

Gabrail Ismayl Photograph: Family of Gabrail Ismayl

Gabrail Ismayl, 62
Always upbeat, patient transporter was a sewing whiz 

Occupation: Patient transport worker
Place of work: Swedish Hospital in Chicago, Illinois
Date of death: 6 May 2020

Caring, upbeat, always first to arrive at a party. Gabrail Ismayl loved an excuse to don a suit and splash on cologne.

That’s how Fidelline Youhanna remembers her uncle. “Everybody loved Gaby,” she said.

After immigrating from Syria in the 1980s, Ismayl ran wholesale clothing shops on Chicago’s North Side. He was a whiz with the sewing machine and enjoyed altering dresses, making curtains and designing gifts for family and friends.

Always outgoing, he later found work as a hospital orderly, wheeling patients where they needed to go.

As the pandemic took hold, Ismayl worked despite health conditions that elevated his risk, Youhanna said.

“I think he just liked his job,” she said. “He made a lot of friends there.”

Ismayl became sick in April and self-isolated in the basement of the home he shared with two of his sisters. On 6 May, he was short of breath, Youhanna said. By evening, he was dead.

Ismayl was employed by management services company Sodexo. A spokesperson for the company said they mourned his death but would not comment on whether he may have contracted the disease at work.

— Mary Chris Jaklevic

Photograph:

David Ferranti Photograph: Susan Ferranti and family

David Ferranti, 60
A doting family man and loving son, he was a longstanding fixture at his hospital

Occupation: Hospital equipment coordinator
Place of work: St. Elizabeth’s medical center in Brighton, Massachusetts
Date of death: 2 May 2020

David Ferranti was committed to his families – both at home and at work. In his job on the engineering unit, he was really part of every team in the hospital, wrote St Elizabeth’s president, Harry Bane, in a note to employees. “He was always worried about ‘his nurses’ and ‘his departments’ having what they needed to best care for our patients.”

Ferranti worked at the hospital for almost 42 years, “and he loved every day of it”, said his father, Savino Ferranti. St Elizabeth’s was treating many Covid-19 patients when David became infected with the virus, his father said, but it was impossible to say where he caught it. St Elizabeth’s had no further comment about his case.

Ferranti was a family man “and the greatest son you can imagine”, his father said. He had a wife, Susan, and a son, John.

Ferranti worked in his garden and enjoyed walks in nature. A history buff, he was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. His father, a descendant of Italian immigrants, served in the military there, where he met David’s mother, Renate.

For his family, tragedy hit twice within weeks. David’s aunt Ann Ferranti died of the disease a few weeks before David. The advice David would have given to anyone, said his father, “is to stay safe, whatever it takes”.

– Katja Ridderbusch

Photograph:


Kelly Mazzarella Photograph: The Mazzarella Family

Kelly Mazzarella, 43
A nurse for whom family was everything—and patients were like family

Occupation: Clinical Nurse Manager 
Place of work: Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital in Mount Vernon, New York
Date of death: 8 May 2020

Even as a little girl, Kelly Mazzarella had her sights set on helping others. She turned this innate altruism into a 16-year career as a clinical nurse and then nurse manager at a community-based teaching hospital in Westchester, New York.

Karen Jedlicka remembers being blown away by the care her big sister showed every patient. “People would be going through the worst things in their lives and she was just there for them,” said Jedlicka. “Her bedside manner was incredible.”

Mazzarella showed that same compassion at home with her husband Ronnie Mazzarella and daughters Hailey and Kristina. She never missed an opportunity to tell her daughters how proud they made her, said Jedlicka.

In July 2019, Mazzarella was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that brought on painful bouts of swelling. Despite the discomfort, she continued to work on and off through March, helping her nurses with the influx of Covid-19 patients until she developed symptoms. She was diagnosed with Covid-19 on 2 April and died 5 weeks later.

Nicol Maursky, a lifelong friend, organized a GoFundMe for the Mazzarella family to offset funeral costs, medical bills and loss of income. A staggering outpouring from friends and family has brought the campaign close to its $75,000 goal.

“She just had such a love and a light that emanated from her,” said Jedlicka. “And reading all the social media posts about her, it’s just very comforting to know everybody felt the same way that we did.”

— Suzannah Cavanaugh, City University of New York

Photograph:

Krist Guzman Photograph: Family of Krist Guzman

Krist Angielen Castro Guzman, 35
 Young nurse lived a life of ‘no regrets’

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Meadowbrook Manor in Bolingbrook, Illinois
Date of death: 2 May, 2020

Krist Guzman packed a lot into her short life. She worked full time while studying to become a registered nurse. She had three children, including a newborn.

Smart, funny and outgoing, she nurtured relationships.

“Hers was a life of no regrets,” said a cousin, Jeschelyn Pilar.

In a Navy family that moved often, she was close to her brother, Anjo Castro.

“She was my role model,” said Castro, who also pursued a medical career as an independent duty corpsman in the Navy.

The pandemic hit home when their uncle, pediatric surgeon Dr. Leandro Resurreccion III, died on 31 March.

Guzman told family she had seen patients with Covid-19. Worried she didn’t have adequate protective gear, she scrambled to find some online.

Meadowbrook has registered the worst Covid-19 outbreak in Illinois, with more than three dozen deaths. A representative for the nursing home said in a statement: “Meadowbrook puts the safety and welfare of its residents and staff at the forefront of everything we do.” She did not address whether there was sufficient protective gear.

― Mary Chris Jaklevic

Ali Yasin

Ali Yasin Photograph: Zair Yasin

Ali Yasin, 67
A hands-on pharmacist who made the big city feel smaller

Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of work: New York City pharmacy in New York, New York
Date of death: 4 May 2020

Ali Yasin was a small-town druggist in a city filled with impersonal, chain-store pharmacies. He managed to operate a robust business and remain on a first-name basis with his customers. Over the years, he became their medical consultant, insurance whisperer and friend.

Jen Masser said the first time she stumbled into Yasin’s pharmacy, her arms were covered in hives. “See someone right away,” Yasin advised. “This could be a serious disease.” He turned out to be right – she was ultimately diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

Born in Pakistan, Yasin moved to the US in 1979 and worked in various pharmacies before opening his own in 2001. He ran it with the help of his four sons.

In March, after serving customers in hard-hit Manhattan in his typical hands-on manner, Yasin developed a cough and tested positive for Covid-19. By month’s end, he was in the hospital on a ventilator. He died on 4 May.

The storefront window of the Yasin family pharmacy is pasted with condolence cards. Zair Yasin, one of his sons, said the outpouring has been immense: “I didn’t realize until he was gone how many people he touched.”

– Kathleen Horan

Marsha Bantle


Marsha Bantle Photograph: The Isaacs family

Marsha Bantle, 65
As she lay dying, she asked for other patients’ names so she could pray for them

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Signature Healthcare in Newburgh, Indiana
Date of death: 1 May 2020

Marsha Bantle’s family begged her to quit after a resident in the nursing home where she worked was diagnosed with Covid-19.

But she wouldn’t leave. “My patients can’t leave their rooms, they can’t see their families. They really need me right now,’” she told her cousin Carol Isaacs.

Bantle tried to reassure relatives she would limit her exposure, but on 17 April, her temperature spiked. Bantle, who lived alone, holed up at home. She finally called her family when it was clear she needed to be hospitalized.

“That’s Marsha for you,” her cousin John Isaacs said. “She didn’t want us to worry.”

Even while hospitalized, Bantle was selfless, said Shay Gould, an ICU nurse who cared for her. She offered to turn off her medication pump to save the nurse a trip. She asked for other patients’ names so she could pray for them.

After about a week, Bantle had a stroke, probably brought on by the Covid-19 infection. Within days, she died.

Since April, the nursing home has had 52 positive cases and 13 Covid-19 deaths, including Bantle’s. In a statement, Signature Healthcare said, “The loss of any of our residents or staff, for any reason, is devastating.”

– Michelle Crouch

Sheena Miles


Sheena Miles Photograph: The Miles family

Sheena Miles, 60
A semi-retired nurse, she took on extra shifts as Covid-19 threat grew

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Scott regional hospital in Morton, Mississippi
Date of death: 1 May 2020

Sheena Miles was semi-retired. She usually worked every other weekend, but as Covid-19 emerged in Mississippi, she worked four weekends in a row in March and April.

She told her son, Tom Miles, that it was her duty.

The economy where she lived is dominated by poultry plants, and the county has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot. Sheena was diligent with protective gear, wearing her mask and doubling up on gloves, Tom said. She stayed home when she wasn’t working.

“Losing Sheena has been a tragic loss, as she had been a part of our hospital for 25 years,” said Heather Davis, a hospital administrator.

Sheena became ill on Easter Sunday. By Thursday, Tommy Miles, her husband of 43 years, drove her to the University of Mississippi medical center in Jackson.

Two long weeks passed. The family was allowed to say goodbye in person, and on their way into her room, an ICU nurse told them that years ago, Sheena had cared for his infant daughter. “‘Your mom saved her life,’” the nurse said.

“That was a little comfort in the storm,” Sheena’s son said.

– Michaela Gibson Morris

Steven Perez

Steven Perez Photograph: Medical Center of Annandale

Steven Perez, 68
An air force doctor, he served in the White House early in his career

Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Place of work: Medical Center of Annandale in Annandale, Virginia
Date of death: 7 May 2020

When George HW Bush announced his 1988 run for the presidency, Steven Perez was one of the doctors who gave him a clean bill of health.

An “air force brat” who was born in the UK, Perez served as a flight surgeon and medical director in the air force medical service corps before practicing as a physician in the White House from 1986 to 1990, according to a statement from his family.

“It was the honor of his life,” his son, Benjamin Perez, said.

Perez went into private practice in San Antonio, Texas, in the early 90s before opening his own clinic in northern Virginia. He also taught at the University of Virginia.

According to his family, he made a promise to God and “never refused medical aid to the poor who came to his office, even accepting yams as payment on occasion”.

Perez’s family describes him as a proud grandfather to his three grandchildren (with two more on the way); he loved the University of Southern California Trojan football, the Dallas Cowboys and the Nationals.

“He could make anyone laugh, knew just what to say, and showed profound love for his friends and family,” his family wrote in an obituary. “Every person he met felt like they were the reason he was there.”

– DR