James Mahoney, 62
January 24, 1958 – April 27, 2020
Dr. James “Charlie” Mahoney was an American pulmonologist and internist. He was head of the intensive care unit and a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York
James A. Mahoney was born on January 24, 1958 to Leila and Oscar Mahoney. His father was a member of the United States Air Force and young James and his family were raised in military housing in Bermuda and the South Shore in Nassau County, New York. He was one of four children. As a child, a family friend nicknamed him Charlie, which obviously stuck with him throughout his life. James began working with his older brother, Melvin, at the age of 8. The two worked at a laundromat, German delicatessen, and a lunch counter. James was also an excellent athlete and captained his high school football team at Roosevelt High School.
Mahoney completed a B.S. at LIU Post in 1981 while working in patient transport at the Long Beach Medical Center. He graduated from SUNY Downstate Medical School in 1986 and never left, serving as the hospital’s chief resident from 1989-90; as an assistant professor of medicine and later running the hospital’s intensive care unit. James would go on to become a respected pulmonologist and pillar of his Brooklyn university hospital system, who led his team into the Covid-19 crisis. But he couldn’t avoid the dangers that frontline workers face – particularly as a lung doctor treating a respiratory illness.
Like many public hospitals in New York, Mahoney’s workplace didn’t have enough protective equipment at the onset of the pandemic and staffing was strained. The exposure was inescapable. “He was handling patients and codes [patients needing intensive intervention] every five to 10 minutes,” said Purna Atluri, a gastroenterologist who worked with Mahoney for more than 20 years. “He was doing everything he could.” Melvin, James’ brother and also a medical doctor, explained, “Mahoney was well-trained to treat Covid-19 patients. And public hospitals, already stretched thin, were bracing for an influx of patients. So he went “running into the fire”, Melvin said. Brooklyn has had 40,000 Covid-19 cases, and the virus hit black and Latino communities the hardest.
“The last time I saw him was at the beginning of the pandemic,” Julien Cavanagh, a colleague and neurologist said. “I said, are we going to get through this? And he said, oh yeah, we’re going to get through this.” Dr. Mahoney worked tirelessly without taking a day off to combat COVID-19. But in early April, Mahoney started coughing and running a fever. On Easter Sunday, Mahoney’s family noticed on a video chat that he didn’t look well. The next day, he was admitted to his own hospital, SUNY Downstate.
At first, Mahoney seemed to be improving – he gave his family a thumbs up on FaceTime. Then his health deteriorated and he was transferred to NYU Langone for a higher level of care. Sadly, James succumbed to the virus that he fought so hard to defeat and passed away on April 27, 2020.
To many in the field of medicine, James Mahoney will be remembered as a giant in the field of medicine, but also a gentleman who treated the janitors as well as he treated the CEOs. “He’s one of our legends – he’s one of our giants,” said neurologist and colleague Julien Cavanagh. Friends and family described him as a natural teacher and colorful jokester who loved baseball, casinos and cruises. Mahoney took more than 50 cruises in his lifetime and was known to become distracted chatting with patients about cruising. So much so that accordingly, his co-workers put up a sign in Dr. Mahoney’s office reading: “Attention All Patients: No discussions about cruises while seeing the doctor unless medically related?”
He is survived by his brothers, Dr. Melvin Mahoney (Mildred Llanetta) and Ronald Mahoney, and his sisters, Rutha “Sissy” Mahoney and Saundra “Chick” Chisolm (Douglas Chisolm).
Rest in peace, James.