July 20, 2021

Dedicated Healthcare Workers

Kuhn Hong, MD, FACR

Since I returned from Ethiopia as a medical missionary, I spent lot of time painting. At the end of 2019, we heard about a new virus detected in China and thought it was a regional problem. However, when cases spread outside of the region, we quickly realized we were facing a totally different worldwide epidemic.

Subsequently, the schools, many businesses, and restaurants began to close. Travel restrictions and even bans were put into place. We were even forced to stay in our homes. As we all watched the TV and scoured the internet to acquire information about the virus, I decided to create a series of paintings related to the pandemic.

This series was inspired by photo images from various social media sites (since I could not visit the hospitals myself to sketch or take photographs).

The first painting in this series of works. “Rushing COVID-19 Patient from Ambulance,“ is a dramatic scene of dedicated nurses and paramedics rushing to bring the critical patient from the ambulance into the emergency room. This urgent scene of the first team running to greet and assess the sick was a recurring image, not only in Chicago hospitals, but all around the world. This series also includes another familiar scene inside the ICU, in which the medical care team is actively caring for the patient, who is fighting for breath with the assistance of a ventilator.

I collected photos of dedicated healthcare workers around the world wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), similar to the way I collected stamps as a child. Each one was a different image of exhausted individuals commonly working extended hours without proper rest and sleep. As days added up from weeks to months, I heard of many deaths reported, including a group of elderly Catholic nuns residing in one convent near Detroit, MI.

This collection entitled, “The Fallen Heroes,” depicts physicians who died from COVID-19 in 2020. As of November 2020, nearly 3,000 U.S. healthcare workers died from the pandemic, including 220 physicians and 460 nurses. The piece entitled, “The Fallen Heroes”, is a collection of some of these physicians. From photos released over media sources, I compiled their images and painted their portraits into two panels of canvas to celebrate their lives and to memorialize their dedication and sacrifice.


At the bottom of the second panel, is Frank Gabrin, MD (second from left), the first ER physician who died from COVID-19. To his left is David Wolin, MD, a 74-year old fellow radiologist. The only female was 28 years old, Adeline Fagan, MD (middle row, second from left). She was the youngest, an OB-GYN resident physician. I finished this series of paintings in January 2021.

I hope their lives will be remembered forever through these paintings, as well as the countless other healthcare workers who continue to treat and care for patients. I am so privileged to share these works through Synapses, a creative journal of Chicago Medical School, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. Review all the paintings online in Synapses, Vol. 5, 2021.

I also presented a solo exhibition of 45 oil paintings at the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago, April 16–27, 2021. I created these paintings while working at the Myungsung Christian Medical Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, since my retirement in 2013. I lived in Ethiopia for five years helping in the hospital and teaching medical students.