Of all the tributes that have poured in for Tamara O’Neal, MD, a Chicago doctor who was shot and killed Monday, it’s a tweet from a former classmate that’s the most chilling. “I knew her, trained with her, saved lives with her and tonight, tried to save her life,” tweeted John Purakal, MD, an ER doctor at the University of Chicago hospital. “Tonight, I broke down in front of my coworkers when we lost her, and tonight I held hands with her mother in prayer.”
I knew her, trained with her, saved lives with her and tonight, tried to save her life. Tonight, I broke down in front of my coworkers when we lost her, and tonight I held hands with her mother in prayer. Tonight, we lost a beautiful, resilient, passionate doc. Keep singing, TO. pic.twitter.com/NLQpX1rZIn
— John Purakal, MD (@JohnPurakal) November 20, 2018
In a Twitter direct message, Purakal explains to Yahoo Lifestyle that he did his residency training with O’Neal from 2014 to 2017, and was one of the physicians working in the University of Chicago hospital emergency department Monday afternoon when O’Neal was rushed in. “Tonight we lost a beautiful, resilient, passionate doc,” Purakal wrote on Twitter. “Keep singing, TO.”
O’Neal, a native of Indiana, reportedly worked two jobs while preparing for medical school, and was — on top of being an excellent doctor — an active member of her community’s church. The shooting was carried out by O’Neal’s ex-fiancé, Juan Lopez, whom she broke off an engagement with in September. Witnesses reported seeing the two arguing before Lopez shot O’Neal several times and then ran into the hospital and continued shooting. Another two victims were fatally shot inside, a pharmacy first-year resident and a Chicago police officer.
The shooting of O’Neal, in the hospital where she worked, is particularly painful for the medical community, falling in the midst of a moment when doctors are actively galvanizing against the National Rifle Association with the hashtag ThisIsOurLane. For many, the timing was impossible not to mention. “Are you really still asking if @ThisIsOurLane,” tweeted Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “It isn’t the first time this kind of violence was brought, literally, to our doorstep, claiming one of our own,” tweeted Michael Gonzalez, MD. “Shouldn’t it be the last?”
It isn’t the first time this kind of violence was brought, literally, to our doorstep, claiming one of our own. Shouldn’t it be the last?
— Michael Gonzalez, MD (@Zindoctor) November 20, 2018
While for some the incident is a time to push for stricter gun control, for others it’s a time to grieve those who have been lost. With O’Neal, people are mourning the loss of a beloved doctor, congregation member, singer and friend. “This is a mere glimpse of what a vibrant person Dr. O’Neal was,” tweeted June Chae, a doctor in Minnesota — “a photo of her when she matched at UIC for residency.”
— June Chae (@Chaeface) November 20, 2018
I was in the trenches at #mercyhospital as a resident in the same program as Dr. O’Neal. She was a resident when I was a fellow. This loss on my old home turf is too much. We lost a @feminem, a @UICBrownCoat, and a #BlackWomeninMedicine.
— JT (@JillianTheobald) November 20, 2018
Yesterday we lost a sister, Dr. Tamara O’Neal.
Today we collect for her funeral. We will support her family.
Tomorrow we galvanize in action. We will honor her memory. We will change the world.https://t.co/kB3GdqNPq1
— FemInEM (@feminemtweets) November 20, 2018
Dr. O’Neal also had grit, that most magical of qualities. There are very few female POCs in our field; they don’t get there by accident. It’s an uphill journey. She had to be special, tenacious, a stand-out doc.
— Esther Choo MD MPH (@choo_ek) November 20, 2018
Perhaps most vocal thus far has been Dara Kass, MD, founder of Feminem , an organization for female doctors in emergency medicine. On Tuesday, Kass set up a fund to pay for O’Neal’s funeral and tweeted out a simple but heartbreaking message. “Today we mourn. Tomorrow we change the world,” she wrote. “RIP Dr O’Neal We are so sorry we couldn’t protect you.”