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Dr. James Mahoney of Freeport: Pulmonologist sprang into action when the pandemic hit

Dr. James Mahoney of Freeport, a lung doctor

Dr. James Mahoney of Freeport, a lung doctor treating patients with severe respiratory illnesses, died April 27 at NYU Langone Hospital from COVID-19. Credit: Saundra Chisolm

Patients, doctors and interns all have a story about the kindness of Dr. James "Charlie" Mahoney. 

The meals unexpectedly delivered to his training staff. All-nighters with an intern to watch over a particularly sick patient. The nicknames for his co-workers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, from doctors and nurses to security and orderlies. The personal donations to patients or friends in need. 

Mahoney, a pulmonologist from Freeport, planned to retire in January, but then came the pandemic. Mahoney sprung into action, treating COVID-positive patients at SUNY Downstate and  NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, both public facilities in low-income communities hard hit by the crisis. Mahoney refused to take a day off or to avoid close contact with his patients. 

But that dedication cost him. Mahoney, a lung doctor treating patients with severe respiratory illnesses, died April 27 at NYU Langone Hospital from COVID-19. He was 62.

"He ran in when others ran out," said his brother, Melvin Mahoney, 67, a physician from Freeport, who spent decades working alongside his brother in the Brooklyn hospital. "He died doing what he loved to do best. He would not have it any other way."

James was the middle of five children to Oscar Mahoney, 89, who served in the Air Force, and the late Leila Mahoney. He grew up in military housing in Bermuda and on Nassau's South Shore. 

Mahoney was a standout athlete and captain of the football team at Roosevelt High School. While taking classes at what was then C.W. Post in Brookville, Mahoney took a job transporting patients at the Long Beach Hospital, and a love of medicine was formed.

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.

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His accomplishments, colleagues said, are all the more notable as African American doctors make up less than 5% of the physician workforce nationwide.

"His caring, professional, down-to-earth, knowledgeable personality was put on display everyday," said Dr. Mafuzur Rahman, a colleague and friend and vice chair of medicine at SUNY Downstate.

While in medical school, James traveled to California, where he met Lisa Johnson Mahoney, a graphic designer who now lives in Baldwin. The couple fell in love and married in 1987 and had three children: Jamie, 31, an actor and musician; Stephanie, 28, a student at Howard University School of Law; and Ryan, 24, a student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. 

The couple divorced in 2004 and remained close friends. Neither remarried, but James Mahoney had a longtime girlfriend, Dawn Havens.

"In our relationship, he was the fun spirited one," Lisa Mahoney said. "I was the more practical mom. My kids will miss that the most. But they have a lot to be proud of."

Friends and family described James Mahoney as a natural teacher and colorful jokester who loved baseball, casinos and cruises. He took more than 50 cruises in his lifetime and was known to become distracted chatting with patients about cruising.

Eventually, a sign was put in Mahoney's office reading: "Attention All Patients: No discussions about cruises while seeing the doctor unless medically related?"

Mahoney is survived by his three children, father, brothers Melvin and Ronald; sisters Rutha Mahoney and Saundra Chisolm; a sister-in-law, Mildred Llanetta, and brother-in-law, Douglas Chisolm. 

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