Hero Down: Cook County Deputy Richard 'Rich' O'Brien Dies From Coronavirus
McHenry, IL – Cook County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) Deputy Richard “Rich” O’Brien died on May 3, after he contracted COVID-19 while battling leukemia.
The 53-year-old deputy was diagnosed with a common form of leukemia late in 2019, his brother-in-law, Jeff Stewart, told the Skokie Patch.
Deputy O’Brien underwent his first round of chemotherapy in late February and immediately went back to work with his oncologist’s support.
"He was tired that first weekend, and he was still going to work because his oncologist told him, 'Oh, don't worry about the virus, you're strong enough, your body will handle this fine. Don't worry,'" Stewart told the Skokie Patch.
But Deputy O’Brien fell ill after undergoing his second chemotherapy treatment in late March.
His condition continued to worsen, so his wife, Cindi, took him to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital on April 4, the Skokie Patch reported.
Cindi was not allowed to accompany him into the hospital.
Deputy O’Brien tested positive for the novel coronavirus the following day.
“You are the love of my life,” he texted his wife on April 7, just before he was placed on a ventilator.
“That was it,” Stewart told the Skokie Patch. “And then later that night they decided that he needed to go on a vent because the pneumonia had developed in the lungs and he could barely breathe.”
Deputy O’Brien’s prognosis looked promising for the next 10 days, and he was even taken off of the ventilator at one point.
But approximately 30 minutes later, he had to be intubated once again because his blood pressure spiked, Stewart explained.
Deputy O’Brien soon developed a rare blood-clotting condition, followed by a host of other complications, the Skokie Patch reported.
"Basically, the good news stopped,” Stewart said. “Every day there was new issues. Whether it was his kidneys or his blood platelets or the blood gas levels. You name it — what could go wrong went wrong."
Deputy O’Brien’s family was given permission to visit him on April 23 for approximately 10 minutes, the Skokie Patch reported.
They all wore full protective gear as they gathered inside his hospital room.
“He was so strong,” Stewart said. “He was not ready to go then.”
Deputy O’Brien battled the disease for nearly 10 more days.
At approximately 1 a.m. on May 3, the hospital called Cindi and allowed her to see her husband one last time, the Skokie Patch reported.
“Within about five minutes of her being up in the room he passed away,” Stewart said.
Cindi announced her husband’s tragic death on the family’s fundraising page the following day.
“Our heart is broken forever,” she wrote. “He fought so hard for so long to find his way home to us. Today we lost the most wonderful man in the world, my best friend, my husband, the greatest father that would do everything and anything for his children, a loving son and the best brother. A man that would do anything for his family and friends.”
“We will never recover from this,” Cindi continued. “Thank you for all your prayers, love and support. Rich would be blown away and it means the world to my family and I.”
Deputy O’Brien served the CCSO for 27 years, according to the fundraising page.
He was most recently assigned to the department’s Civil Process Division, the Skokie Patch reported.
Deputy O’Brien died in the line of duty, the CCSO said in a press release.
"He was known by his colleagues as a highly motivated and dedicated professional,” the sheriff’s office said. “Over the course of his career, he earned the respect of his peers and supervisors for always asking to be assigned to the front line and for going the extra mile.”
In addition to his wife of 25 years, Deputy O’Brien leaves behind his children, 23-year-old Katie, 21-year-old Amy, and 17-year-old Zach, according to the family’s fundraising page.
"Deputy O'Brien was devoted to his family and loved spending quality time with them,” the CCSO said in the press release. “He lived his life with a positive attitude, even during the most challenging times.”
The department said that Deputy O’Brien will be remembered as one of the many “unsung heroes in the battle against this global pandemic.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Cook County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Richard “Rich” O’Brien, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.