A young Louisiana dentist is facing the likely loss of one of her eyes after a former patient went into her office and stabbed her.
The attack which targeted Dr Katherine ‘Katie’ Tran and two of her colleagues – while leading to the arrest of Sharon Stewart – is the latest chilling reminder that US healthcare professionals are suffering more workplace violence injuries than those in any other industry, including law enforcement, as the Associated Press reported last year.
Papers filed by local police in New Orleans’s state criminal courthouse accuse Stewart of going to Tran’s Louisiana dental center office on 7 February and asking to speak to her. One of Tran’s co-workers then heard a loud sound, turned around and saw Stewart standing over the dentist while wielding a knife with a three-inch blade, police alleged.
Another of Tran’s co-workers heard her remark: “I got stabbed in the face” while blood streamed down from around one of her eyes, police added in the documents. Stewart allegedly chased Tran, 32, as the dentist ran into another room and locked herself in there.
Stewart is accused of trying to hurt two more employees at Tran’s office, including one who stepped in to defend the dentist. “She is crazy – she is trying to stab me,” one of the employees whom Stewart allegedly targeted was heard screaming, according to police.
The 55-year-old Stewart ran from Tran’s office before police arrived, but they found and arrested her after canvassing the surrounding neighborhood, the court documents noted. She was jailed on counts of attempted second-degree murder as well as aggravated assault before appearing at a bail hearing Thursday.
At the hearing, a prosecutor said Tran had been stabbed in her left eye and the right side of her neck, the local news outlet Nola.com reported. In all likelihood, Tran will lose the wounded eye, the prosecutor said.
Nola.com added that the prosecutor recounted how – at the time of Tran’s stabbing – Stewart was wanted in connection with allegations that she tried to set a man’s apartment on fire on 31 January.
The victim in that case told police that Stewart had beaten him with a hammer and hurled threats at him in the days before she allegedly approached his home, lit a match and ignited his window. The man put out the blaze with help from a neighbor.
Meanwhile, on 9 January, a woman alleged that she and her daughters were confronted in a beauty store parking lot by Stewart, who also followed them to a nearby pharmacy. The woman asked Stewart to seek counseling after she said Stewart accused the woman of stealing her identity and food stamps – and threatened to come after the accuser’s family “when the time was right”, Nola.com reported.
A civil court judge on 29 January signed an order prohibiting Stewart from contacting or going near that woman.
The judge overseeing Stewart’s bail hearing Thursday in connection with Tran’s stabbing ordered her held without bond until at least 15 February. Police have also booked Stewart with counts of arson and battery in the earlier episodes involving the man whose apartment was allegedly set ablaze.
Court records in Stewart’s case do not address her relationship with Tran. But Tran’s sister, Carolyn, confirmed that Stewart was once Katie Tran’s patient. Carolyn Tran declined to comment further.
An online GoFundMe campaign launched to support Tran in her medical recovery also asserted that the dentist had been “assaulted and stabbed multiple times by a patient she was treating”.
Dr Linda Cao, president of the New Orleans Dental Association, said she expected Tran’s stabbing to prompt difficult discussions about giving any attention to walk-in patients because she did not believe Stewart had an appointment.
She said the case terrified her, reminding her of a New Orleans-area physician’s 2016 shooting death by a former patient whom the doctor had diagnosed with cancer. The patient left the doctor’s office after the slaying there and then died by a suicide at a neighboring fast food restaurant.
Cao said her organization stood at the ready to support Tran however it could, including by offering to provide counseling services. “As a young doctor, my hope is she can regroup from that,” Cao said. “Getting that sense of security back for her – I think that’s more important than anything else.”
Healthcare professionals had endured 73% of all nonfatal workplace injuries in 2018, the most recent year for which figures were available, according to the report conducted by the Associated Press.
Tran graduated in 2021 from New Orleans’s Louisiana State University dental school, where she earned the award for excellence in operative dentistry. She was preparing for her fourth year in practice to begin in May when she was stabbed.