Dr. Frank Gabrin, 60, became the first emergency room doctor to die from coronavirus on Tuesday.
Gabrin, a two-time cancer survivor who worked at East Orange General Hospital in Essex County, New Jersey, reportedly died in the arms of his husband, Arnold Vargas, at their New York City home.
Vargas, 28, said Gabrin stopped going to work on March 26 after experiencing symptoms of coronavirus.
“He had a lot of coughing and two days ago he was very sick,” Vargas told NJ.com, adding that on Tuesday, Gabrin woke up saying, “Baby, I can’t breathe.”
Vargas said he called NYPD but was placed on hold, and it took over 30 minutes for help to arrive. “He died in my hands,” Vargas said.
On Wednesday night, Vargas was overcome by emotion during an appearance on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, sobbing throughout the segment.
“He was a person who loved to help people,” Vargas told host Chris Cuomo, before breaking down. “He just wanted to help people.”
Vargas reportedly has mild symptoms of coronavirus but expects to recover at home.
Debra Vasalech Lyons, a close from of Gabrin’s who appeared on Cuomo Prime Time with Vargas, said his death highlights the ongoing shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“He had one medical kit — including the face mask — for a whole week,” Vasalech Lyons told the New York Post earlier. “He had one pair of gloves. They ran out of the large and extra-large gloves and Frank had to try to wear a size medium. Every time he put them on they ripped. They ran out of soap.”
Although Gabrin knew he was immuno-compromised, he wanted to continue helping as the ER became flooded with coronavirus patients. Vargas told NJ.com his husband expected to recover.
“He told me, ‘I can handle this. I survived cancer and this is just the coronavirus,’” Vargas said.
Dr. Megan Ranney, an ER doctor at Brown University who knew Gabrin, learned of his death moments before an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday.
“It breaks my heart,” Ranney said. “I hope he is the first of only a few emergency physicians to die, but if Italy and China are any guide, unless our government steps up and gets us the protective equipment we need he will be the first of many of my colleagues to succumb to COVID-19.”
Dr. William Jaquis, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), also referenced “dire shortages” of PPE in a statement responding to Gabrin’s death.
“We know the risks of the job we signed up for, but we are on the frontlines in this historic war against COVID-19 with insufficient protection,” Jaquis said, adding that people can do their part by staying home to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Dr. Alvaro Alban, the chairman of the Emergency Department at East Orange General Hospital, told NBC News that Gabrin was “delightful, caring and wonderful work with.”
“He had every intention to help. He was eager to keep working in the E.D. and was disappointed when he started to get symptoms. His intention was that his fever would break. Dr. Gabrin was motivated, on a mission and wanted to keep working,” Alban said in a statement.