Dr. James Mahoney's students hail him as a hero after he literally gave away his life for the greater good.
Dr. James A. Mahoney of New York was working double shifts when New York emerged as a hotspot for the virus. When he was not working his day shifts at an intensive care unit at the University Hospital of Brooklyn, he was working nights across the street at Kings County Hospital Center, reports The New York Times.
At other times, he was conducting telemedicine sessions with his regular patients from home, making sure they were wearing masks and washing their hands.
When at a hospital he would run from one ward to another, helping patients suffering from the virus and he wasn't hesitant at all. “There were people who were really reluctant to go into the rooms, and you could understand why,” Dr. Robert F. Foronjy said. “He saw another human being in need, and he didn’t hesitate to help.”
At age 62, after 40 years of service as a physician, Mahoney could have retired like his other colleagues and brother, also a doctor, who retired as the pandemic hit, worried that their age would put their health at high risk if they continued working with infected patients. His friends and family begged him to retire and rest.
According to the New York Times, he had been on the front lines for AIDS, the crack epidemic, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Hurricane Sandy. Therefore, his family wanted him to let go of this one and save himself. But he did not do it and didn't stop checking in on the patients even after he became ill himself. On April 27, he succumbed to the virus he had fought so vigorously. But he left an indelible mark in the hearts of his students.
To many of the younger doctors at the hospitals where he worked, Mahoney was a heroic figure.
"As a young black man, I looked at this guy and said to myself, ‘Twenty years from now I want to be like him,’" Latif A. Salam, one of Mahoney's previous students who now works at University Hospital, told the NYT. "When a black medical student, a black resident sees him, he sees a hero. Someone that you can be one day."
"He’s our Jay-Z," Salam told the paper. "He told that to a lot of his residents who were people of color: you’re just as smart as everyone else," Mahoney's sister, Saundra Chisolm told The Guardian.
"He knew how to press people’s buttons to get the best out of them," Foronjy added. Chisolm said that her brother treated everyone equally, from cleaners to nurses to other physicians. "He didn’t treat people like underlings," she told The Guardian. "He would talk to housekeeping like he would talk to the chief of the hospital."
Chisolm told The Guardian that a family cruise taken in January was meant to mark his upcoming retirement. "He said, ‘that’s probably gonna be my retirement cruise,'" she said. But his retirement plans were quickly put on hold when the pandemic hit and he started working relentlessly.
"He gave everything to that hospital. He gave his life for that hospital," Mahoney's older brother Melvin told the Washington Post as quoted by PEOPLE, later adding, "There are two hospitals crying. Nonstop. I’ve heard men crying like you wouldn’t believe. That’s how much they loved my brother."
Melvin added to the NYT, "He worked on the front lines to the end."
Foronjy launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a scholarship fund in Mahoney's honor. The scholarship will "provide tuition support to enable a deserving and talented African American applicant to attend SUNY Downstate Medical School," from where Mahoney graduated in 1986.
Rest in peace, Doc!