Coronavirus Kills Chinese Whistleblower Ophthalmologist
Written by Shannon Wong on April 22, 2020
The team at Austin Eye is sad to share that Li Wenliang, MD, a Chinese ophthalmologist and the first medical professional to sound the alarm about coronavirus (COVID-19), died of the virus in February. Dr. Li is widely considered a hero for his public service.
What Happened to Dr. Wenliang?
Li was working in Wuhan where coronavirus is believed to have originated from a local seafood market. In late December 2019, he noticed seven cases of a virus that reminded him of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which appeared in China in 2002 and quickly spread across the world. The seven patients with the virus were quarantined in the hospital where Dr. Li worked.
On December 30, Dr. Li messaged fellow doctors in a chat group, alerting them to the cases and encouraging them to wear protective clothing at work to avoid catching the virus. Screenshots of his message went viral, and Dr. Li realized he might face punishment from local authorities for sounding the alarm on the new disease.
He was right. A few days after Dr. Li sent the message, local police accused him of spreading rumors online about the virus. Dr. Li was forced to sign a letter in which he was accused of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order.” Dr. Li later shared a copy of the letter on Weibo, a social media platform, with an explanation of the incident.
Meanwhile, officials in Wuhan insisted that only people coming into contact with infected animals could catch the disease. They did not share any information with doctors to protect them from the outbreak.
After the incident with the police, Dr. Li returned to work. A week later, he treated a glaucoma patient who had been infected with coronavirus but was not showing symptoms at the time of the appointment. Soon after, Dr. Li started coughing and developed a fever. He was promptly taken to the hospital and diagnosed with coronavirus.
According to an interview with Dr. Li’s mother, his condition was stable for a few weeks. Unfortunately, Dr. Li’s health took a turn for the worse and he died on February 7.
Dr. Li’s parents both contracted coronavirus but recovered. Dr. Li left behind a child and his wife, who is expecting.
Upon news of Dr. Li’s passing, the public has affirmed him as a hero for trying to spread the word about the coronavirus.
We Are in This Together
If you have any questions about coronavirus and your eye health, Austin Eye is here for you. Our office is temporarily closed, but you can reach us by calling 512-250-2020.