Before the virus overwhelmed the hospitals of New York, before it changed how Americans went about their daily lives, James “Charlie” Mahoney was planning for his retirement.
He had just gone on a Caribbean cruise with his family, a January vacation that his sister, Saundra Chisholm, said was part-62nd birthday celebration, part-early retirement party. He had been working in the intensive care unit at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center for nearly four decades, caring for patients through the HIV/AIDS epidemic, through 9/11, through the swine flu and now he felt like it was finally time to take it easy.
“And then covid hit,” Chisholm said.
His family insisted he follow through on retirement, including his brother Melvin Mahoney, who is also a doctor. His boss, Robert F. Foronjy, said doctors, especially those who were older or at higher risk of suffering complications from the novel coronavirus, were given the opportunity to step back.
But James Mahoney refused. And to some extent, his colleagues and family knew he would.
“He gave everything to that hospital,” Melvin Mahoney told The Washington Post. “He gave his life for that hospital.”
Before it came for him, Mahoney witnessed the toll of the virus in his patients in the ICU — not just at SUNY Downstate but also across the street at Kings County Hospital Center, where he also took on shifts. Sometimes he slept there, his brother said. Mahoney had new coronavirus patients needing critical care every hour, an onslaught of suffering that was unlike anything he and his team had ever seen, Foronjy said.
He worked on his patients until he couldn’t anymore, in mid-April, when the telltale fever crept up on him. It never got better.
The 62-year-old died of the virus on April 27, with his dearest colleagues — his second family — at his side. From the time he brought himself to the emergency room, suffering from shortness of breath, he was treated by his colleagues in the same hospital where he had worked and studied since 1982, starting as a medical student. He ultimately died at Tisch Hospital, which had more sophisticated blood-oxygenation equipment, and where Foronjy and four of his other closest colleagues personally escorted him from Brooklyn to Manhattan traveling in two ambulances.