COVID-19 continues to claim lives in our community
By Robert Stevens
As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, Sanpete residents continue to lose loved ones to the virus.
As of Monday, the Central Utah Public Health Department (CUPHD) reported Sanpete County was up to nine confirmed COVID deaths and 1996 total confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.
The loss of a loved one to COVID-19 is never easy, but one thing the Messenger has learned while covering the virus in 2020 is that experiences with it can be very different; and the people we talked to about losing a loved one from COVID said much the same thing.
“They [the doctors] weren’t ever really able to give us many real answers,” said Claire Cox of Manti in regards to her husband Reed’s time in the hospital before he succumbed to the virus. “We weren’t upset about that, we understand. The doctors told us it affects everyone so differently. My husband was 64, but they say the youngest to die from it in the same hospital was only 17 and symptoms can range quite a lot.”
The Messenger reported on Reed’s hospitalization in our Nov. 26 issue, but unfortunately, he didn’t survive his fight against the virus. Both Reed and Claire contracted COVID, but Reed was hospitalized and fought for his life in the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center (UVRMC) before dying on Thursday, Dec. 17.
“At first we thought it was just a sinus infection,” Claire Cox told the Messenger. “We usually both get them around that time of year, but Reed began coughing too, and came down with a fever.”
The pair quarantined upon confirmation of COVID, but Reed’s condition worsened and they eventually decided he badly needed medical treatment. On Wednesday, Nov. 18, Claire drove her husband to the hospital and dropped him off. She could not go inside because of her own COVID positivity. Reed went into UVRMC wearing a robe. His cell phone was his only personal belonging.
“They told us he was low risk, but they wanted to keep him for a couple of days just to be sure,” Clair said. “Things started going downhill from there.”
Reed’s oxygen levels became a problem immediately, and over the following month, he would be placed on several different forms of assisted breathing apparatus, including a ventilator. His organs also took a beating from the virus. His kidneys began shutting down and his heart was struggling. His lungs also had considerable scarring and damage from the toll the virus was taking on his respiratory system.
“They put him on oxygen because he wasn’t getting any of his own,” Clair said. “We just couldn’t get his lungs to respond in a good way. They also gave him plasma with antibodies. The doctors called it a ‘little army of warriors’ to fight the virus. But things still got worse and worse.”
During the month Reed was in the hospital, he was constantly exhausted. He made an attempt to stand up for one minute, but was so drained from the toll the virus was taking on his body, he couldn’t sustain it, Claire said.
The UVRMC doctors made the decision to attempt a tracheostomy, a medical procedure involving a tube placed in the neck to deliver air to the lungs without a ventilator. The idea was that sedation could be reduced with the ventilator removed, and this might help with Reed’s recovery process, Clair said.
Claire said when they received a call from the doctor on Dec. 17 that the procedure was a success, they felt a surge of hope that maybe this would be a turning point for Reed.
“We felt so hopeful, so happy thinking things were looking up,” Claire said. “His kidneys were on the verge of failing and any good news was a relief. But after the first call, we received another saying Reed had gone into cardiac arrest. I could hear the doctors and nurses yelling in the background as they gave him CPR. They were trying so hard to save him.”
Claire and other family members left immediately to drive to the hospital, but on the way, Claire and Reed’s son, Kevin, called her to say that Reed was gone and they were waiting for her to arrive to take him off the machines.
“It was all so shocking,” Claire said. “He was such a healthy man. He had no preexisting conditions and was very active. He snowmobiled, hunted, did yardwork, flew airplanes and always passed the physicals for his pilot’s license. He was in better shape than I am, but I recovered fine and he didn’t.”
She said the tragedy has shown her and her family just how serious this virus is, and how it can impact everyone differently. The politicization of the issue in American society is a potentially deadly mistake that is making people think the whole thing is “no big deal,” she said.
“We realize not everyone gets as sick as Reed did,” Claire said. “We don’t know where either of us got it from. It could have been from anywhere. By the time you find out you’re contagious you already contaminated other people. I believe with my whole heart that masks will help. Even if you’re a person who is anti-mask, at least be considerate of other people around you who are concerned with their health. No one can guess what is going to happen if they get it. You have to pray and hope you’re not the one who dies from it.”
Claire added, “Lots have been said about giving up rights over all this, but the people who won’t do it [wear masks, social distance] are taking away the rights of other people, in my opinion.”
Things will never be the same in their home now, said Claire. The loss has hit the family hard, especially the manner in which it all unfolded.
“I am a widow now and life is changed forever,” she told the Messenger. “As heartbroken as we all are, we have just had to come to terms. There has been so much heartache. The last two weeks we couldn’t even communicate with him because he was sedated and on the ventilator. Then we couldn’t even be there to say goodbye. It was torture for everyone.”
Earlier this year in Ephraim, another couple contracted the virus together and only one survived. David Thompson, 86, and his wife, Carol, 85, got the virus after friends visited from Pennsylvania who, unbeknownst to them, were COVID positive.
After their friends went home, they began feeling poorly a few days later, and their friends from out-of-state eventually called them to inform them of their illness. A COVID test confirmed that they had coronavirus. It would eventually spread within their family to one of their sons and his wife also.
With both David and Carol in a high-risk age bracket, the virus was already a serious threat, but it was even worse for David, who was also diabetic and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“He was already going downhill, but he was still fairly active,” Carol told the Messenger. “My husband had once been the kind of man who was always working and always had a project. He had been on the decline, and I know that God took him home at the right time. With the virus on top of the other things wrong with him, he became very disabled, unable to walk or even sit up sometimes without help. He was so sick we had to put him in hospice.”
Carol said for her and David, the symptoms of the virus were very different than what most people deal with. They had a low fever, but it was primarily intestinal symptoms. Their extremely upset stomachs resulted in both of them being unable to eat almost anything for several weeks, she said.
“Besides a fever, we had none of the other symptoms that so many people have,” Carol said. “No headaches, coughing or other lung issues. I have asthma, so I was very concerned at first but that never became an issue. I wasn’t desperately sick, but my taste and sense of smell only just coming back after four months and my energy level is also still very low. Now, I am 85 years old, so can’t expect to be full of energy, but it is still really low.”
Like Reed Cox, David didn’t survive his fight with the virus, but he experienced very different final days and slipped off into a peaceful death with family near, Carol said.
“We are big bible-believing Christians,” Carol said. “We believe that when we leave this earth we go to heaven and we are so fortunate David went there peacefully.”
After hearing of his condition, several of David and Carol’s sons came in from out-of-state to see him. David perked up when they arrived, becoming more responsive. Over the course of their week-long visit, David would repeatedly ask his sons, “What day are you going home?”
Carol said she believes David wanted to pass when his sons were there. They were planning on leaving on Sunday. On Saturday morning, David woke up at 6 a.m. and got out of bed to use the restroom. His son, Todd, helped him back to bed after he was done and lay next to his father on the bed.
Carol said Todd sat up and looked at his father out of some instinct and determined that something significant was happening. David was starring distantly with a smile on his father. He reached his hands towards the heavens and drew his last breath.
“I miss him every day but he didn’t suffer badly like many do with this,” Carol said. “I wonder what his first Christmas in heaven is like. I am sure he is loving it. He is happy where he is at now, and I would never want to bring him back from that.”
Carol said she is not certain how she feels about things like lockdowns and mask mandates, but she believes the virus to be very serious. Her own symptoms continue now, even four months after finding out she had coronavirus.
Currently, there are 245 active cases of COVID in Sanpete County out of the 1996 total. Eight Sanpete residents are currently hospitalized.
Sanpete County currently leads the pack by a lot in Central Utah’s COVID cases. The next closest county in the health district by case count is Sevier, with 1195 confirmed cases and seven deaths. Millard County has 777 total cases and one death. Juab has 646 total cases and nine deaths. Wayne County and Piute County only have 64 and 61 total confirmed cases, respectively. Piute has had two deaths.