After months of life during the pandemic, news headlines are mainly dominated by changing rules and restrictions, as well as the conflicting opinions of public figures. But every now and then, we get a sobering reminder of the risks of the coronavirus, which puts everything else into perspective: Adeline Fagan, an ob-gyn resident who was working in a Houston hospital, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July. On September 19, she died. She was only 28.
According to the GoFundMe page set up by her family while she was battling the virus, she started feeling "intense, flu-like symptoms" after doing a shift treating patients in the hospital ER. Fagan, from Syracuse, New York, quarantined for about a week after testing positive, Syracuse.com reported. But her health deteriorated—her lips turned blue (a sign of a lack of oxygen in her blood) and she lost her balance.
After being admitted to the hospital, Fagan spent the next few weeks undergoing treatment with several different respiratory therapies and “dozens of drugs,” according to the GoFundMe page—which was created to help pay for medical bills, travel, and living expenses for Fagan’s parents, who were staying in Texas to be close to their daughter as she fought for her life.
“When there was no positive response to these methods of treatment, Adeline decided to begin an experimental drug trial,” her sister, Maureen Fagan, wrote on GoFundMe. “However, before we could see if this new drug was effective, her lungs could no longer support her.”
On August 3, Fagan was intubated and placed on a ventilator. She didn’t respond well to it, and after consulting with her parents, doctors decided to take the “last remaining step.” The following day, Fagan was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which is used in the most serious COVID-19 cases.
Her father, Brant Fagan, shared the sad news of his daughter's death on the GoFundMe page on September 19.
“The time the world stopped for a moment and will never be the same,” he wrote. “Our beautiful daughter, sister, friend, physician, Adeline Marie Fagan, MD passed away. We want to sincerely thank all who supported Adeline and us through this difficult time. You were all there cheering and praying and crying. The number of well wishes and caring people humbles us. Even in this darkest of times, there are good people willing to share a piece of themselves for the sake of another.”
Brant finished his statement with some advice. “If you can do one thing, be an ‘Adeline’ in the world. Be passionate about helping others less fortunate, have a smile on your face, a laugh in your heart, and a Disney tune on your lips.”
Maureen also provided some information about what happened to her sister, revealing that she had been “doing wonderfully” in the days before her death. But Fagan experiences a massive brain bleed, and the family had to decide whether doctors should carry out a procedure to relieve pressure.
“The nurse came into her room for a routine task and noticed Adeline was not responsive,” Maureen wrote. “They immediately rushed her for a CT scan which showed the extent of the damage.”
The neurosurgeon told the family that Adeline had a “1 in a million” chance of surviving the procedure, and if she did, she would have several severe cognitive and sensory limitations.
“Everyone was crushed by the events, the nurses, the doctors, and, of course, us,” Maureen wrote. “The doctor said they have seen this type of event in COVID patients that spend time on ECMO. The vascular system is also compromised by the virus, resulting in bleeds. We spent the remaining minutes hugging, comforting, and talking to Adeline. And then the world stopped…”
Fagan had her whole life ahead of her—she had just started the second year of her residency when she became sick. Her story is an important warning that it’s not only older people who die from COVID-19.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter