Coroner’s Note During COVID-19

Orleans Parish Coroner Announces How He Fought The Coronavirus

The symptoms for Dr. Dwight McKenna, Orleans Parish Coroner, presented in early
March when he began experiencing feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. Subtle signs…at
first. When the symptoms lingered, however, and after what seemed to be days upon days
of excruciating discomfort, he took it upon himself to close his medical office and
quarantine at home. His hope was to heal and get back to the important work of front-line
duty running the coroner’s office and treating his numerous patients in the medically
underserved Gentilly neighborhood where he has practiced for nearly 40 years.

But that was not to be. In contracting COVID-19, Dr. McKenna was seriously sidelined;
ever fearful of infecting others, he was cut off from his family, left to fight the virus on
his own. He was admitted to the hospital, not once but twice, in the span of a week. He
later isolated himself in his home where the illness took its toll on his body.

Not only was he short of breath after taking just a few steps, he was literally exhausted;
he had little to no appetite and oftentimes was fearful of the unknown. Dr. McKenna was
plagued with constant body aches, shortness of breath, hiccups, fever and chills. He says
that looking back he now realizes his sense of time was twisted, not exact. He shut
himself off from everyone for three days. His family and friends were sorely concerned,
reaching out at every opportunity. He tells that those days in isolation dragged by
agonizingly slowly. McKenna says, he just wanted the virus to pass so he could get better
and stronger.

For some of those days, he was lost in sleep, illness and a strong urge to fight. So, fight
he did. McKenna says that once he emerged from the fog, his strong desire to live took
over. “I didn’t want to succumb without a fight,” he says.

He remembers how he felt when he got word that the pandemic was raging across the
country and around the world. He had a job to do; as a doctor his focus was being
available to and helping sick people at his Gentilly clinic; and his duty of running the
coroner’s office was critical. He had the responsibility, with the help of the state, to
receive the decedents who have died from COVID-19 and housing them in a makeshift
morgue. In his mind, he just had to get better, he had to survive this.

While his energy was zapped, he began the work of getting up and moving…a few steps
here, a full meal there; he weaned himself off of the oxygen tank. “I truly consider myself lucky.
I didn’t do it alone. I had the luxury or retaining the services of a 24-hour private duty nurse,”
says McKenna. Even today with his second COVID-19 nasal swab being returned negative, the
effects of the virus which struck him over eight weeks ago linger, and the recovery is slow but

Dr. McKenna has returned to both his medical practice and after working from home for two
months, he has returned to his onsite management of the Orleans Parish Coroner’s office.
The lesson for McKenna: Never, ever give up. He’s living proof.