On Tuesday, an emergency room doctor named Dr. Frank Gabrin died in his husband’s arms due to complications from COVID-19 — only a few days after noticing symptoms.
Gabrin’s husband, Arnold Vargas, gave a heart-wrenching interview on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time about the legacy his husband is leaving family and friends, urging Americans not to let his death be in vain and to continue supporting efforts that provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care workers.
“He was a person who just wanted to help people,” Vargas told host Chris Cuomo, who also tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
Gabrin worked at East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens, N.Y. He died suddenly after waking up unable to breathe.
Vargas had previously told NJ.com that his husband, who was on the front lines two weeks ago as the uptick of COVID-19 cases began to emerge, was forced to reuse N95 masks and hospital gowns while treating patients.
Though Gabrin was never tested for the virus at the time, according to Vargas, he was experiencing similar symptoms as early as two weeks ago.
Gabrin’s friend Debra Lyons also spoke about Gabrin and his dedication to patients.
“Frank put people first, whether it was his coworker or the patient,” said Lyons. “He felt that if you became a health care worker — if you were a doctor or a nurse — you did it because you cared. You were there for a reason. You made that decision long before. He always worked to make the life of the people he worked with as good as he could. He made sure that they felt good. He taught them how to get satisfaction with compassion, and even as [COVID-19] was coming on, he was finding ways to make it work."
She continued, "He didn’t expect this to happen as it was coming up. He really didn’t. He was working hard, we were talking every day. I was saying, ‘How is it going?’ He said, ‘It’s busy, but it’s manageable.’ And it went from manageable to unmanageable overnight. I think that’s what happened, and even then he looked for ways to make it work, even when he knew [his immune system] was compromised."
"It’s a big thing we’re asking [health care workers] to face," Lyons explained of the shortage of PPE doctors and nurses are experiencing across the country. "It’s like asking soldiers to go to the front line and giving them nothing to do their job."
"Being in the front lines is what each one of these health care workers prepared themselves for. They did not expect to go in with nothing. I think that’s the hardest part. What are we asking them to do for us right now? What are we asking them to do, and putting their families at risk? Arnold is currently sick. I think it’s important for us to take a look at that and say Frank did this, and he would want some good to come from his loss.”
Gabrin certainly believed the best care starts with a personal connection, having published several videos on how we can build more empathy and compassion. (see below)
On his profesional website, he wrote, "I believe that caring for others should make us caregivers feel incredibly good. But we don't. In fact many of us, more than half even, don't feel good at all and are already in some stage of compassion fatigue or burnout. I'm here to change all that. Through my work, I've been able to uncover and dismantle the big lie that we've been taught and brought with us into our practice that I have found to be the cause of this disease. This lie, this big myth, is that we have to keep our professional distance in order to be better caregivers."
Gabrin continued, "In its place, I teach that to do better, we do not need to step back, but rather we need to take a step forward and connect more fully with the hurting human in front of us. When we take this step forward, we engage what I call the protocol of True Care. It is through True Care that we will find healing, on both sides of the stethoscope."
During Vargas's interview with Cuomo, the CNN anchor fought back tears while giving Vargas advice on how to deal with loss, as given to him by Joe Biden.
“When my family lost our father recently, one of the guys who’s running for president, Joe Biden, called us,” Cuomo said. “He said, ‘Someday when your father’s face and his name come to your mind, a smile will come to your lips before a tear will come to your eye.’ It may take a long time, but at some point, Arnold, when you think of your husband and everything he meant to you, you will smile before you cry.”
“Frank died in his arms,” Lyons added of Gabrin, a two-time cancer survivor. “He died basically before the paramedics arrived. The paramedics took an hour trying to bring him back.”
Ending the interview, Lyons and Vargas made clear the reason that they’re speaking to the media is to save lives.
“Frank made it very clear [that] it’s not about the outcome. You don’t get to save every patient. It’s about what you do with the outcome,” Lyons said. “It’s important for him to make sure we make a good outcome, no matter what. And in this case, he lost his life needlessly. … He’s a professional. He knew how to protect himself, but if he did lose his life, we have to make sure something good comes from it. His message was always, ‘Care for each other. Care for the people in front of you. Your satisfaction comes from getting that care, from feeling another person’s pain and being capable to do something about it.’”
She concluded, “The pain we feel for Frank’s loss, our goal is to make sure that everybody takes away whatever other issues there are, and make sure we take care of each other, and most importantly, take care of our health care heroes.”