624th RSG Citizen Airman named “Catholic Doctor of the Year” for COVID-19 response

  • Published
  • By Kelly Owens
  • 624th Regional Support Group

New York City had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 1, 2020. By March 12, the city experienced a nearly 109% increase in cases – and by April, the total number of coronavirus cases in the city had climbed to exceed 70,000.

It was during that timeframe that the city was preparing for the worst, setting up field hospitals to care for patients that public hospitals did not have capacity to serve. To supplement and augment overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare workers, 366 military medical personnel – doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists – deployed to New York City in early April.

Maj. Daniel E. O’Connell, a Reserve Citizen Airman with the 624th Regional Support Group’s Aeromedical Staging Squadron (ASTS) where he serves as a medical officer, was just one of the doctors who volunteered to deploy. O’Connell served a two-month tour, working 12-hour shifts alongside his military and civilian medical peers at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.

It was for that service that O’Connell was named Catholic Doctor of the Year by Mission Doctors Association (MDA), a nonprofit that supports doctors and their families as they work with underserved communities and populations around the world. Founded in 1959, MDA has been recognizing a Catholic Doctor of the Year annually since 2009, with the exception of 2020.

O’Connell is the third military medical doctor to be honored with this distinction. In 2019, MDA recognized retired Army colonel and surgeon Sister Deirdre Byrne, MD, and in 2018, bestowed the honor to former US Navy flight surgeon, Dr. Tom Catena.

“I am truly humbled by this award and feel undeserving since I was not the only one who raised their hand to help,” said O’Connell. “Raising our hands to help is what we all do. Every single Airman and every single military and civilian medical professional on the ground comes from a place of service without expectation of recognition. We’re simply doing what we are called to do, but I am grateful for the opportunity to represent all of my peers – both military and civilian – as this year’s recipient.”

“Maj. O’Connell is one of the most humble Airmen I have had the opportunity to work with,” said Col. Edward Johnson, commander of ASTS. “One of the Air Force’s core values is service over self, and it’s certainly a value that O’Connell lives by both within our squadron and as a civilian. I am grateful that he was ready, willing and able to support the mission and be recognized for his service.”

O’Connell is a board-certified neurologist, fellowship-trained in both neuro-oncology and interventional pain management. He also holds a master’s degree in public health.

Deployed alongside O’Connell from the 624th RSG ASTS was Lt. Col. Nathan Kwon, a critical care air transport team physician who, as a civilian, serves as an emergency physician at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, and Lt. Col. Matt Bershinsky, who was serving as the deputy commander of 624th RSG at the time of his deployment and works in pediatric orthopedics as a civilian.