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Dr. Tamara O'Neal. (Youtube)

Irreplaceable loss

E.R. doctor shot to death by ex-fiancee is mourned by heartbroken friends and colleagues

By WITW Staff on November 21, 2018

Colleagues of a emergency room doctor who was shot and killed at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on Monday have come forward to share stories and pay tribute to a colleague who they said won the admiration of all those around her with her hard work, an outgoing personality, and a desire to make a positive impact on the world around her. Tamara O’Neal, 38, was shot multiple times by her former fiancee, 32-year-old Juan Lopez, after he reportedly confronted her in the hospital parking lot to demand she return his engagement ring. After shooting O’Neal, Lopez ran into the hospital and opened fire, killing Dayna Less, a 24-year-old pharmacy resident, and Chicago police officer Samuel Jimenez. Lopez also died at the scene, either from gunfire by police or by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

E.R. physician John Purakal, a former colleague of O’Neal’s, was the first one to treat her. Before beginning work to save her life, he surrendered control as primary physician out of concern that his medical judgment would be clouded by his closeness to the patient.

“I was doing my best to help in every way that I could,” he said in an interview Tuesday. After her death, Purakal said he met with her family and they prayed together.

Colleagues of the late doctor said that O’Neal was a woman of devout faith who went above and beyond the call of duty — both as a doctor and as a friend. Adele Cobbs, assistant director of the emergency department at Mercy Hospital, recalled how O’Neal sat with Cobbs’ father after he fell ill, holding his hand and talking to him as though he were her own family.

“And this was in no more than three weeks of me knowing her,” said Cobbs. O’Neal, she added, was also granted special dispensation to take off Sundays for church — in return, she worked evenings and Fridays to make up for it.

“It was the basis of everything for her, even in her relationship, the church was where she went for counsel,” Cobbs explained. “It was where she harvested her strength.”

Dr. Heather Pendergast, a colleague at UIC Department of Emergency Medicine, told CBS Chicago that O’Neal’s desire to influence the world positively resonated in everything she did.

“She came to medical school not to just be a doctor — she wanted to have an impact. And so she would always say, ‘I want to make a difference and I want to be a great E.R. doctor,” Pendergast said. “She had a lot of dreams, a lot of ways she wanted to make an impact. Knowing that’s probably what hurts the most.”

The shooting continued an all-too-chilling trend in which domestic violence is escalated by the presence of firearms, and a woman is murdered as a result.

Watch CBS Chicago’s coverage of the story below.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


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