ER Doctor Speaks Out After Losing Custody of Her Daughter While She Treats Coronavirus Patients
"I love my daughter more than anything, and that’s why I’m fighting this battle," Dr. Theresa Greene tells PEOPLE
Dr. Theresa Greene, an emergency room doctor in Miami, Florida, does not know the next time she’ll be able to see her 4-year-old daughter in person — and it’s because she is currently among the front line workers against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
During a FaceTime session with her daughter on Friday afternoon, Theresa told her, “I hope you can come home soon.”
“What do you mean?” the 4-year-old asked. “Aren’t I coming home?”
Theresa’s daughter is currently living with her ex-husband, Eric Greene, who was granted temporary sole custody of their daughter on April 9 after arguing in court that Theresa is exposing the child to COVID-19 after treating patients.
It’s been four days since then, and Theresa tells PEOPLE that she’s afraid her daughter is going to think she deserted her.
“I just fear that she’s going to think I abandoned her,” the doctor tells PEOPLE. “And that’s really, really hard for me.”
Before hanging up with her daughter on Friday, Theresa says, “she was playing with her animal friends and she told me her cat was mad at me. And I’ve seen her do that before, she uses transference like that, while she talks to her animals.”
“I was like ‘oh, child, you’re breaking my heart.’”
But the idea that Theresa could easily expose her daughter to COVID-19 simply by virtue of working in the emergency room is a flawed one, her attorney Steven Nullman tells PEOPLE.
“This concern that Dr. Greene would come home and she would have all of that exposure, theoretically as they allege, on her and on her clothes and what have you, it’s not reality,” he says. “Because what would happen is she would be working one day, come home, her daughter would be with father… and then on the days that she had her child, she wasn’t working.”
Theresa tells PEOPLE that she uses “all the precautions at work,” and immediately cleans everything when she returns home from a shift.
“When I come home, I take off my clothes outside, leave everything outside, it goes right in the washer, wash it on high, and I get in the shower,” she explains. “I actually am very paranoid and very careful — like if I touch the doorknob I go back and I Lysol that.”
While Theresa and Eric have been divorced for nearly two years and shared joint custody of their daughter in that time, Eric was granted sole custody of the 4-year-old on April 9 until further notice.
The suspension of Theresa’s timesharing is “solely related to the outbreak of COVID-19,” and she is entitled to communicate daily with her daughter via Skype, FaceTime, or telephone, according to a copy of Judge Bernard Shapiro’s ruling obtained by PEOPLE.
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“The court does not enter this ruling lightly, but given the pandemic in the state of Florida and the recent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases, the court finds in order to insulate and protect the best interests and health of the minor child, this order must be entered on a temporary basis,” the ruling says.
However, because there is no way to know how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, there is no way for Theresa to know when she will be allowed to see her daughter in person again.
Theresa is appealing the custody order, saying that there is a “prejudice” against her because she is not married.
“Most of my coworkers have children that they go home to,” she says. “No one is calling CPS on them and saying, ‘you’re exposing your child to a deadly illness.'”
“No one is actually acting to protect the children of people who are married, and no one is asking them to sacrifice their jobs,” she adds.
Nullman adds to PEOPLE that the “court made the ruling without taking any evidence or hearing from anybody who is qualified to give an opinion to the court as to whether or not children — or parents who work in the medical field and those children are more exposed than people who work in a grocery store or other type places.”
“Those people are not being asked to give up their children,” he says.
Eric’s attorney Paul Leinoff tells PEOPLE in a statement that they both have the “upmost respect” for Theresa’s “commitment to her critical work during this pandemic.”
“We recognize and genuinely appreciate the sacrifices that she and all healthcare workers are all currently making to save lives and prevent further illness in Florida and around the world,” Leinoff’s statement says. “The Greenes’ temporary timesharing dispute was presented before the Court based upon the specific facts of this individual family and a decision was reached based upon the best interests and safety of a minor child, limited to the temporary circumstances presented by COVID-19.”
Leinoff added that the ruling in the Greenes’ case “was not intended to serve as a blanket rule, nor should it,” and that Theresa will be able to make up her lost time with her daughter once the pandemic is over.
“Pursuant to Mr. Greene’s request and as ordered by the Court, Dr. Greene is to be provided future make-up timesharing for each day missed during this challenging time and daily video communication with the child,” Leinoff says. “We will continue to pursue ways to resolve this delicate situation and believe that a result can be achieved safely and fairly.”
Theresa and Nullman tell PEOPLE that she is currently owed four days of make-up timesharing, but hope that custody rules of the daughter can return to normal soon.
“I just want to say that I love my daughter more than anything, and that’s why I’m fighting this battle,” Theresa tells PEOPLE.
“It’s become bigger than me too, in setting a precedent, and I need to do this for other people who are frontline workers in this situation and to fight what I believe is injustice,” she adds.
“I hope I have my kid back soon.”
As of Monday, there are at least 20,593 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida, with 469 deaths related to the virus. Nationwide, there are at least 571,694 confirmed cases and 23,036 related deaths.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.