Neurosurgeon who separated conjoined twins dies from complications of coronavirus

(CNN) - The coronavirus is taking a devastating toll on medical heroes.

In Italy, 61 doctors have died from the virus, and more than 8,000 healthcare workers in Italy have contracted coronavirus.

In the U.S., hundreds of doctors and nurses are sick.

Some have lost their battle, including renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jim Goodrich, who died Monday of complications related to coronavirus.

Goodrich once led a team of 40 doctors at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in an operation to separate 13-month-old twin boys conjoined at the head.

“His expertise and ability were second only to his kind heart and manner,” Montefiore Medicine CEO Dr. Philip Ozuah said in a statement. The hospital didn’t say if Goodrich had recently treated people with COVID-19.

Goodrich was a friend and colleague of CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

You may not have immediately recognized him behind the mask, but the tufts of gray hair and twinkling eyes would eventually give him away.

For 27 hours, he meticulously operated on Anias and Jadon McDonald, separating their brains in 2017.

They are two children, among countless others, alive and thriving because of Goodrich.

“You got to think that after a while, they become kind of like your own kids,” he said. “My God, the Christmas cards that you get from families you’ve been taking care of for 30 years. It’s like you operate on a child who’s just been born - that’s a life-altering experience for a parent.”

For Anias and Jadon's mom, Nicole, it was like watching a superhero.

“I am so blessed to say that not only did I get to see Dr. Goodrich with his cape on doing the most brilliant complex surgeries that anybody could do, but I got to know him with his cape off,” she said.

There are just about 4,600 neurosurgeons in the world.

“This is for you and all the work that you’ve done and what you did to make our family whole by making our babies separate. We love you,” McDonald said.

So dedicated to his work, Goodrich never had kids of his own.

“(It was) not really a conscious decision. The problem is, I was in the military before college. So when I came back I had to go back to basically community college, then college, then I did an MD, PhD so - then graduate school, then medical school, then residency. And we kept talking about it but just kept postponing it. Next thing I know - too old.”

Next to him for the past 10 years, helping him take care of the world’s kids was craniofacial surgeon Dr. Oren Tepper.

“We used to joke we would call him the World’s Most in Interesting Man because he was he was a wine connoisseur, he was a surfer, until his very last days I imagine he was surfing,” he said.

There will be too many cruel and unfair stories like this one with this new disease thrust upon us.

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate based on what you do or who you are, in this case robbing the life of someone who had saved so many.

“He fought with the ferocity from my family in a way that I will never ever forget. That I will forever appreciate," McDonald said. "There will never be another James Goodrich. Not even close. He will never be met, let alone replaced in the world.”

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