Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, the home of New York’s largest Haitian community, has been the epicenter of the global Covid-19 pandemic over the past month.
As of May 19, Brooklyn has had 52,145 confirmed cases of the disease, resulting in 4,875 deaths, the highest figures for a single county in the U.S..
In the last four weeks, the Haitian community lost two of its most well-known Flatbush-based doctors, who were on the front lines of the fight against the new coronavirus. Dr. Brédy Pierre-Louis, 74, died on Apr. 20 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Flushing, Queens, and Dr. François Hebert Brutus, 68, died on May 11 at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola.
Dr. Brédy Pierre-Louis
Born on Mar. 13, 1946, Dr. Pierre-Louis was raised in the small town of Pointe-à-Raquette on Haiti’s impoverished La Gonâve Island in the Bay of Port-au-Prince. After going to high school and college in Port-au-Prince, he attended medical school and did two years of community medical service in Guadalajara, Mexico. He moved to Brooklyn in 1976 and, in 1986, set up a practice there at 1368 Nostrand Avenue with Dr. Reynold Basseth, a dentist.
Although trained as a pediatrician, Dr. Pierre-Louis offered the services of a general practitioner, caring for his mostly Haitian patients whether they could pay him or not.
“Over the years, we become attached to our patients, and it is reciprocal,” wrote Dr. Lucien Mocombe, a fellow Haitian doctor practicing in Flatbush, in an online tribute to Brédy. “Most of us will practice for the love of the profession. Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Brédy Pierre-Louis had said, ‘At my age, if it were not for the affection I receive from my patients, I would have stopped practicing medicine a long time ago. After so many years, they are like part of the family.’”
He also held a deep affection for and commitment to the people of La Gonâve, leading many medical delegations to the island, where he would hold medical fairs for a week or two.
“He did his best to make sure that the people of Pointe-à-Raquette were taken care of,” said Dr. Frantz Métellus, who attended Port-au-Prince’s Lycée Toussaint Louverture with Pierre-Louis in the 1960s and was his close friend and neighbor in Elmont, NY. “He opened a bakery there and gave people money to buy food, invest in agriculture, and make businesses. He bought life-vests for people so they could safely travel by boat to the mainland. Over the past few years, he was building a house there, where he had hoped to relax and retire. We had planned to visit the house together in June, but it seems God had other plans.”
Dr. Metellus and Dr. Pierre-Louis would get together every Wednesday (Dr. Pierre-Louis’ day off) but on Wed., Apr. 8, Brédy did not answer his phone. “He’s not feeling well,” Metellus was told by Pierre-Louis’ wife, Margarette. Two days later, Metellus took his friend, who suffered from a herniated disk and severe back pain, to the doctor because he could not drive. On leaving the doctor’s office, Brédy said he could not walk to the car.
“You see how I am now?” Pierre-Louis asked Metellus. “That’s how my father was just before he passed away.”
“Stop that crap,” Metellus responded sharply. “You’re not your father.” But he acquiesced to carrying Brédy to the car.
On Easter Sunday, Apr. 12, Pierre-Louis’ family took him to Northwell Hospital in Franklin Square, NY before transferring him by ambulance a few days later to New York-Presbyterian in Queens. His condition worsened due to the coronavirus. Although doctors put him on blood thinners, he died of cardiac arrest on Mon., Apr. 20, 2020.
Dr. Pierre-Louis’ funeral was held at Krauss Funeral Home in Franklin Square on May 1. Over 300 people followed the service via Zoom livestream, said his daughter Victoria Pierre-Louis, who is a medical student finishing up her rotations in New York.
In addition to Victoria, Dr. Pierre-Louis is survived by three sons – Brédy, Jr. (a cardiologist in New York), Patrick, and Pascal – as well as his wife, Margarette Luxama Pierre-Louis.
“The journey of Dr. Brédy Pierre-Louis was not in vain,” concluded Dr. Mocombe in his tribute. “He has changed and touched so many lives beyond his own family. He has done his part… By his kindness and his devotion to others, he has contributed to the human mosaic.”
Dr. François Hébert Brutus
Born on Oct. 24, 1951 in the northern town of Limbé, François Hébert Brutus was the third of six children. At five years old, he was sent to Port-au-Prince to get his primary education at the College Georges Marc. He returned to the north to attend high school at Lycée Philippe Guerrier in Cap Haïtien before training as a doctor at the University of Haiti’s Medical School from 1972 to 1978.
After spending two years as an intern at Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital (HUEH) and a year working in the capital for Dr. Mallebranche where he specialized in internal medicine, Dr. Brutus emigrated to the U.S. in 1981 while continuing his medical training during the 1980s in France and at Bronx Lebanon and Kings County hospitals in New York.
Specializing in internal medicine, hematology, and oncology, he established about 20 years ago with his cousin, neurologist Dr. Bordes Laurent, a practice at 716 East 32nd Street in Flatbush, just blocks from Brooklyn College. He was also accredited with Interfaith and Brookdale hospitals in Brooklyn.
“He was a very reserved man, too reserved,” said his younger brother, Duly Brutus, who was formerly a Haitian deputy, ambassador, and foreign minister, but is now retired and living in Florida. “He shunned the limelight. But he had so very many patients who knew and loved him. I had no idea how many patients he had until they started calling us after his tragic death last week.”
Dr. Brutus fell ill with pneumonia and was admitted to NYU Winthrop Hospital on Long Island on Apr. 5. He spent five grueling weeks in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), most of the time on a ventilator.
“At one point in early May, they took him off the ventilator because he seemed to be getting better,” his brother, Duly, explained. “But within a day, his condition worsened, and they had to put him back on assisted breathing.”
Dr. Brutus married his wife, Maude Bonneau Brutus in 1990, and they had two daughters, Lissa and Valerie. The couple lived in Hempstead, NY. He had planned to retire in two years and move to Florida, from where he had hoped to make occasional trips to Haiti to volunteer his medical expertise, said his brother.
“He was extremely dedicated and loved by his patients,” said Dr. Laurent. “To me, he was like a brother and a best friend. He will be greatly missed.”
“He never wanted to be center stage,” Duly explained. “For example, as a young man in 1970, he formed and was the captain of the San Pedro soccer team in Limbé, which had great success. The team clamored for him to continue as the captain the next year, but he refused. That was how retiring he was. He didn’t want a big funeral.”
Accordingly, Dr. Brutus’ funeral was held on Tue., May 19 in Hempstead with just his immediate family and a few close family friends like Dr. Laurent and Dr. Prosper Rémy. New York State limits the size of funerals to 10 mourners.
He is also survived by his five siblings, André (Haiti), Jocelyne (Chicago), Duly (Florida), Yvane (Canada), and Anthony(Canada).
“Ironically, he was almost never sick, he just had allergies,” Duly explained. “In Haiti, we had a cousin who lived to be 104. In my mind, he was going to beat that record. But then Covid-19 came along.”