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Ascension doctor becomes 7th Michigan health care worker to die of coronavirus

Doctor counseling patient

Seven health care workers in southeast Michigan have now died from complications of the coronavirus, including a doctor at Ascension Macomb Hospital who graduated from Wayne State University.

Research by the Free Press and Bridge Magazine finds that workers in hospitals, a nursing home and a foster care complex for teens have died of complications of COVID-19.

One of them was Dr. Chris Firlit, a 37-year-old husband and father of three. Firlit was a member of the Wayne State University's class of 2018, and lived in Berkley.

Firlit was a senior resident in the oral maxillofacial surgery program at Ascension Macomb Hospital. Wayne State announced his death Tuesday and said he had died this week, but did not provide the exact date.

Firlit received a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and earned his doctor of dental surgery degree from Nova Southern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, before joining the WSU School of Medicine.

"It grieves me greatly to inform you that a recent graduate of our school of medicine has died, presumptively due to complications of COVID-19," Dr. Jack Sobel, dean of the medical school, said in announcing the death.

"Dr. Firlit’s death obviously hits very close to home. His dedication to assisting patients during this pandemic drives home the seriousness of this virus, and is emblematic of the fortitude and commitment of the physicians we train," Sobel said.

Sobel urged faculty, medical students, residents and alumni to "do everything possible to keep safe while you practice your dedication to the science of medicine and patients."

Stories from the front  

Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Free Press are teaming up to report on Michigan hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. We will be sharing accounts of the challenges doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel face as they work to treat patients and save lives. 

If you work in a Michigan hospital, we would love to hear from you. You can contact Robin Erb rerb@bridgemi.com at Bridge or Kristen Jordan Shamus kshamus@freepress.com at the Free Press.

Sobel's announcement included excerpts from Firlit’s third-year clerkship supervisors:

“Chris was a hard-working student with a good grasp on medicine. He was a pleasure to work with and I am certain he will become an excellent oral maxillofacial surgeon in the future. Chris was a phenomenal student with an excellent fund of medical knowledge. He has a positive attitude, embodies professionalism and was well liked by everyone. I wish I could have Chris every month as a medical student,” said one of them.

“Working with Christopher was a pleasure.  He was very intelligent and had likable-great people skills. Dr. Firlit was a very intelligent and personable doctor. All my patients he interacted with said only good things. He was great to work with and was very helpful,” another said. 

Six other employees of southeast Michigan health-care providers have also died. They are:

  • Divina Accad, a 72-year-old resident of Taylor who worked as a nurse at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit. She died March 30.
  • An unidentified employee of the VA Ann Arbor Medical Center. The medical center confirmed the death in a statement to the Free Press but did not identify the employee or the date of death. 
  • An unidentified employee of the Wellspring Lutheran Services' New Directions residential care facility. Located in Farmington Hills, it serves teens with behavioral, emotional or cognitive issues. The United Auto Workers' Local 600 confirmed the April 6 death. Wellspring Lutheran Services declined comment.
  • Patrick Cain, 52, an intensive care nurse at McLaren Flint. 
  • James House of Warren, a 40-year-old nurse at a nursing home in Detroit run by Omni Continuing Care. Although he had not been tested for COVID-19, his sister told the Free Press that he had classic symptoms of the disease — cough, low-grade fever, shortness of breath.
  • Lisa Ewald, a long-time employee of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, died of COVID-19 in March. She was 53 and lived in Dearborn. The hospital confirmed her death earlier this month.

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