Dr. Frank Gabrin passed away in his husband's arms on Tuesday

By Gabrielle Chung
April 02, 2020 11:38 PM
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frank gabrin
Credit: Facebook

A 60-year-old doctor and two-time cancer survivor has died after working on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak at a New Jersey hospital.

Dr. Frank Garbin was the first American emergency physician to die after showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

“We are deeply saddened to learn that a former ACEP member and our current colleague on the frontlines—an emergency physician—has lost his fight against this virus,” Dr. William Jaquis, president of ACEP, said in a statement. “Emergency physicians understand that sometimes in our efforts to save your life, we may end up sacrificing our own. This is not a decision made lightly or a post abandoned in times of need. 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.”

Garbin — who worked at the East Orange General Hospital in N.J. — woke up Tuesday morning with chest pain after feeling unwell for a number of days, his husband Arnold Vargas told NBC News. Vargas said Garbin died in his arms at their New York City apartment before paramedics could arrive on the scene to help.

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Though Garbin was not tested for the coronavirus, Vargas told the outlet that his husband believed he was infected. He said Garbin had been staying at home since March 26 after feeling ill.

The couple had been married less than a year, according to longtime friend Debra Vasalech Lyons, who tweeted about the late doctor following his death.

“He planned to go back to work when he recovered. It took only five days from the first sign of symptoms,” she wrote. “We are devastated.”

Though the Garbin knew he could contract the coronavirus by working at the hospital, Lyons told CNN that her friend wanted to continue helping people and “lost his life needlessly because if he’d had the equipment — he’s a professional, he knew how to protect himself.”

Dr. Frank Gabrin
Frank Gabrin
| Credit: Facebook

“We need to make something good come from this,” she said, stressing the importance of providing proper protection to healthcare workers. “I don’t think we are seeing that we have selfish healthcare workers right now, they’re doing what they can even though they are putting themselves and most importantly their families at risk as well.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer survivors like Garbin are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus as “types of cancer and treatments such as chemotherapy can weaken your immune system and may increase your risk of any infection, including with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”

As of April 2, there have been at least 214,461 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with 4,841 deaths from coronavirus-related illness.

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.