On November 19th, 2018 the BrownCoat family lost one of our own, Dr. Tamara O’Neal, in a horrific act of violence that also took the lives of three others: police officer Samuel Jimenez, pharmacy resident Dayna Less, and the perpetrator of the shooting.
We grieve and remember a life so bright and taken so soon. Tamara, affectionately referred to as TO, was a graduate of the UIC EM Residency Class of 2017. Her residency classmates remember her as “sassy” and “a firecracker.” Her smile and energy could brighten any room. An incredibly hard worker, her path to, and through, residency wasn’t easy, yet she still made time for what was important to her: family, church, and giving back to her community. After she graduated, she worked as an attending physician at one of our core sites, Mercy Hospital, taking care of underserved patients and teaching new classes of residents.
Our hearts also go out to the families of the other victims. We grieve for Samuel Jimenez, a 28 year old father who responded to the shooting not because he had to but because he knew that he was needed. Dayna Less was a recent pharmacy school graduate who was starting her residency at Mercy. Our thoughts are with their families as they mourn these tragic losses. And our thoughts are also with the family of Juan Lopez, the shooter, and Tamara’s ex-fiance. His violent act took TO from us too soon, but his family is undoubtedly in shock and mourning his loss.
Friends of Tamara have shared memories and anecdotes highlighting just how much she touched our lives in the short time she was with us. The fact that she always flashed her bright smile in pictures helps us to remember the good times. Some of these are shared below, along with information on how to donate to charities established in her honor to fund gun violence research and minorities in medicine. Rest in Power Tamara.
I knew her, trained with her, saved lives with her, and tonight, tried to save her life. Tonight, I broke down in front of my coworkers when we lost her, and tonight, I held hand with her mother in prayer. Tonight, we lost a beautiful, resilient, passionate doc. Keep singing TO.
–John Purakal, Browncoat Class 2017
As I try to make sense out of the tragedy that took Tamara from us I’m stuck between anger and deep sorrow. How could this happen to such a vibrant and resilient woman? We lost a very proud member of the Browncoat family. All Tamara wanted to do is serve her community. I am eternally grateful for the outpouring of love, support and prayers. They mean the world to all of us. Browncoat Strong.
–Brad Bunney, UIC EM Residency Program Director
Tamara, I’m still in such disbelief that such a senseless, evil act took you from all of us. My heart is so heavy but I felt compelled to write to you. I’ll never forget how badly you wanted to come to UIC for residency and how, when I asked you to send me a few words that you wanted me to pass on to the committee, you sent me 4 paragraphs. It was so easy to go to bat for you because I knew what an asset you’d be to our program and judging by the outpouring from Browncoats all over, I was right.
I remember you proudly adopting me as your mentor to guide you through that first year. I pray I did right by you. I tried my hardest to impart as much of my own knowledge on to you as I could, both clinically and personally; and I tried to help you navigate the tricky waters of shifting your thoughts and actions from med student to doctor. I’m sorry I wasn’t always there for you when you needed me, for the texts that I didn’t get a chance to respond to, for the calls I missed. Mostly, I’m sorry for not keeping in better touch with you. That will forever weigh on me. Your beautiful spirit, joyous laugh, and radiant smile will be with me forever. Until we meet again…
–Rachel Spoelhof, Browncoat Class 2015
I’m hoping this is a dream, I’m still hoping you are going to reply to my text telling me that you are ok. I’m still hoping that I will see you again to reminisce about our past. We graduated medical school and residency together. You came to our baby shower and to our family party. You were familia! Heaven gained a beautiful angel. May you rest in peace TO. We all love you very much!
–Ruben Cardoso, Browncoat Class 2017
Everyone has been sharing this fantastic photo of Tamara. Her smile is one thing I will never forget about her. It is the first thing you notice when you look at this picture. It is a smile I will never get to experience in person again. The next things that I notice in the picture are her nails. I’m guessing she probably got them done specifically for match day. This lady always had her nails done impeccably. For my 30th birthday (the same day as the EM in-service exam) she took me and a few others to her nail salon. During residency we went a handful of times, it was important self-care for her and she was teaching me to relax and enjoy myself even with all the stresses of residency. I hadn’t seen her in a while but we left off at: we need to go get our nails done again someday.
–Elspeth Pearce, Browncoat IM/EM Class 2019
I would like to share two of my favorite memories of Dr. Tamara O’Neal, in hopes it will bring a little light into this week:
(1) The day she stood up in front our residency and shared an amazingly powerful and vulnerable piece of spoken word poetry – I was in awe of her confidence, and the joy she felt as she shared her art with us was so beautiful.
(2) Our last shift together, my last shift as a resident, I was joking around, speaking in a British accent and was trying to teach Tamara, and we both could not stop laughing.
–Janae Hohbein, Browncoat Class 2018
It’s been 6 days and I still struggle to find the right words. My heart aches at the loss of Dr. Tamara O’Neal, my former co resident and one of the first ER doctors I ever worked with as a medical student. Dr. Dayna Less, a resilient young professional who was just getting her life started only to be senselessly and tragically cut short. Police Officer Samuel Jimenez, a young husband and father with less than two years on the force. I don’t know that I have fully processed the events of last Monday. I don’t know that I ever will.
What I do know is that today I am thankful.
I am thankful for my friends, and family (both blood and browncoat), who have reached out to me over the last week, your kind words and concern have been heartwarming to say the least.
For Dr. Tamara O’Neal who despite my struggling through a tough Monday shift was nothing but kind and complimentary to me on what would be our last day together. Her lessons will live on in my practice.
I am thankful for my co-residents and attendings who stayed by my side and did not leave until all our patients in the ED were accounted for and dispositioned to the ICU or transferred to other hospitals to receive the care that they needed.
For the nurses and staff at Mercy, particularly those who continued to work through the night caring for our patients as they would any other day.
For the countless men and women in uniform who responded and particularly those who escorted me multiple times through a partially secured building so that I could do my job.
Lastly, I am endlessly thankful for Police Officer Jimenez who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure no more lives were lost. His actions constitute to truest form of bravery, heroism, and selflessness. He will not be forgotten…
–Javier Herrera, Browncoat Class 2019
AFFRIM Dr. Tamara O’Neal Research Fund Proceeds will fund research in gun violence, specifically intimate partner violence which kills approximately 50 women each month.
Tamara E. O’Neal Memorial Fund Proceeds will be donated to UIC School of Medicine to provide scholarship for underrepresented minority students and residents in medicine.