First Georgia doctors die from COVID-19

Dr. John D. Marshall Jr. of Americus is apparently the first Georgia doctor to die of COVID-19. Marshall, 74, spent 111 days on a ventilator and dialysis after contracting the virus.  (WALB-TV)

Credit: WALB TV

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Dr. John D. Marshall Jr. of Americus is apparently the first Georgia doctor to die of COVID-19. Marshall, 74, spent 111 days on a ventilator and dialysis after contracting the virus. (WALB-TV)

Credit: WALB TV

Credit: WALB TV

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that another Georgia physician died last week from the virus.

The cancer patient was old and frail, so after the examination, Dr. John D. Marshall Jr. helped the man to his car.

This simple act of kindness may have cost Marshall his life.

Marshall, 74, a family-practice doctor in Americus for more than three decades, contracted COVID-19 from his elderly patient, family members said. Marshall died Wednesday after spending 111 days on a ventilator, apparently one of the first practicing Georgian physicians killed by the novel coronavirus.

Another physician, Dr. Frank Lockwood, who worked in a Piedmont Healthcare practice in McDonough, died from COVID-19 last week. He also was a founding member of Village Theatre in Atlanta, which said on its website that Lockwood had been ill with the virus for several weeks.

Piedmont declined to say whether Lockwood had treated patients with COVID-19. In an email on Friday, Piedmont spokesman John Manasso wrote: “We mourn the loss of our Piedmont family member and feel deeply for his family and friends during this difficult time. Out of respect for privacy and for our colleague’s loved ones, we do not comment on or speculate about the cause of death.”

Marshall was an Air Force veteran, a one-time pharmaceutical salesman, a former president of an NAACP chapter and the publisher of a monthly newspaper, the Americus Sumter Observer, which covers the African-American community in the Southwest Georgia town.

While practicing in nearby Plains in the 1980s, Marshall once performed a physical examination of former President Jimmy Carter. He maintained a full-time medical practice well past retirement age.

“He served up until the time he could not,” Charles “Yahvo” Marshall, the doctor’s brother, said in an interview Thursday.

The physicians’ deaths emphasize the risks that medical professionals face from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 98 Georgia health care workers.

Marshall became ill in late March, before social distancing, facial masks and other precautions were in widespread use.

When Marshall learned his patient had tested positive for the virus, he had himself tested, too, then self-quarantined alone at home in Americus. By the time his test came back positive, his brother said, Marshall had a fever and diarrhea. He got progressively sicker, but tried to manage his illness on his own.

“He was the type of person who would take care of himself and take care of others, as well,” said his niece, Leslie Marshall.

She and her brother went to their uncle’s house on April 6. They found him weak, his breathing labored. They retrieved an oxygen tank from Marshall’s office and stabilized his breathing. But when the oxygen ran out, Marshall agreed to go to a hospital.

Credit: WALB TV

Credit: WALB TV

Because the local hospital was over capacity with COVID-19 patients, Marshall was transferred to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah on April 13. The same day, doctors placed him on a ventilator. Eventually they sent him to an acute long-term care facility.

“He coded a couple of times,” Leslie Marshall said, and the family finally decided to sign papers instructing that he not be resuscitated. Doctors had told them that however long Marshall lived, he would require ventilation and dialysis.

On Wednesday, the 111th day since he was ventilated, Marshall’s family took him off life support. He died minutes later.

“It was like he just said, ‘No, the fight is over,‘” Leslie Marshall said. “He had been fighting all his life.”

Hours later, mourners held a vigil outside the headquarters of the Americus-Sumter County Chapter of the NAACP. Friends praised his dual commitments to medicine and civil rights.

“He was one of the greatest doctors in Americus, certainly, and a great citizen,” Bishop Melvin McCuster, senior pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and a longtime patient of Marshall’s, said in an interview. “It’s a great loss to the community.”


Staff writer Ariel Hart contributed to this article.

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