City teacher whose family fought for potential lifesaving therapy dies from coronavirus
City schoolteacher David Behrbom, whose family was battling red tape to get him pioneering therapy in his battle against COVID-19, died Sunday — just hours before a potential key breakthrough, his kin said.
Behrbom, a 47-year-old teacher at PS 55 in the Bronx, was expected to finally get donated plasma late Sunday for last-ditch convalescent plasma therapy, after The Post helped highlight his family’s desperate battle with bureaucracy over the move.
But Behrbom died in his medically induced coma in the ICU at White Plains Hospital Center at 5:50 a.m. Sunday, his heartbroken brother, Andy Cohen, told The Post.
The family had already been warned hours earlier that Behrbom might not survive the night “after he crashed two times in 15 minutes” with multiple major organ failure, Cohen said by phone.
“The doctor told me, ‘This is a hard one. Your brother really fought,’” Cohen said, saying the doctor was “so exhausted and emotional,” he “sounded like he’d run a marathon at full sprint.”
Behrbom, who lived in Ardsley in Westchester County, had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia March 12 — and fell sick from the coronavirus on the last of five days of chemotherapy. He tested positive for COVID-19 a week before his death.
With his immune system devastated by the cancer and chemotherapy, the virus soon left him with “major organ failure to his kidneys, his lungs and his liver,” his brother said.
“There’s only so much you can do when you reach that level,” Cohen said.
Behrbom was “playful and sweet” and “that one person who would always rush to someone’s aid,” his brother said.
He was “always there when I needed him,” Cohen said, recalling their tight bond growing up with their single mom, who is now 71.
“It used to be the three of us together — we were the Three Musketeers,” Cohen said. “Now we lost one.”
As soon as his brother had been diagnosed with cancer, Cohen said, he recalled the painful memory of their mother once telling them how “the worst thing a person can ever experience is losing a child.”
“Now we have finally lost him,” Cohen said.
Cohen said his brother’s family — wife Elizabeth and their kids, Alex, 12, and Eliana, 10 — “meant so much to him.”
“No one will ever be able to fill that void,” Cohen said. “I know that people suffer every day from this virus and it’s something that can’t be quantified.”
Behrbom’s family had managed to line up dozens of potential donors for plasma from those who had recovered from the contagion when they believed it was his only hope for survival.
But despite producing the donors, they were repeatedly denied permission for the treatment — until soon after The Post first contacted the hospital for comment.
While Cohen will now never know whether the hold-up prevented them from saving his brother, he said he is driven to campaign for other families suffering in the same way.
He stressed that his battle with bureaucrats did not taint his amazement at the medical staff putting their own lives at risk to help others during the pandemic.
“I knew they wanted nothing more than to help my brother, to make him better,” he said of the “phenomenal” hospital staff.
“They fought so hard for David. But their hands were tied in a crucial moment.”
White Plains Hospital has told The Post that patient privacy prevents it from providing specific information on the case.
“Like all hospitals across the country, we are actively exploring all treatment options for our patients diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, including convalescent plasma therapy,” the hospital said in a statement.
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