A charming secretary, a 'gregarious' mechanic: US healthcare workers who died of Covid-19 in April


America’s healthcare workers are dying. From doctors to hospital cleaners and from nursing home aides to paramedics, those most at risk of contracting the coronavirus have already helped save thousands of lives.

KHN

Hospitals are overwhelmed, workers lack protective equipment and some staff suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to this pernicious virus.

Health authorities in the US have no consistent way of tallying the deaths of healthcare workers. As of early June the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 383 deaths among health workers – but acknowledges that tally is an undercount.

Lost on the frontline is a collaboration between the Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of healthcare workers in the US who die from Covid-19, and to understand why so many are falling victim to the pandemic.

These are some of the frontline health workers who died in April. You can also read about health workers who died in March and May.

Photograph:
John Abruzzo Photograph: Christina Ravanes

John Abruzzo, 62
The ‘life of the party’ who bonded with patients

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Huntington hospital in Huntington, New York
Date of death: 2 April 2020

Long Island is where John Abruzzo was born, raised, worked and died. The second of 14 children, he was the “life of the party”, said his daughter, Christina Ravanes. He loved poker and fishing. He had a son as well, and three grandchildren.

Abruzzo developed strong friendships with patients, said Susan Knoepffler, the hospital’s chief nursing officer. “He had a winning smile. He was kind of a teddy bear,” she said.

He tested positive for Covid-19 in late March and died five days later. “I went from seeing my dad at a wedding,” Ravanes said, “to the next time I see him, it’s ashes.”

His wife, Mary Abruzzo, died eight days later, on her birthday, Ravanes said, likely from complications related to type 1 diabetes (she had not been exposed to her husband when he was infected).

As of 18 June, no other nurses at Huntington hospital had died of Covid-19, Knoepffler said, adding that the facility was well prepared and never ran out of supplies. What’s missing, she said, is Abruzzo.

– James Faris, James Madison University

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Sean Boynes Photograph: Family of Sean Boynes

Sean Boynes, 46
The pharmacist didn’t want to let patients down

Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of work: AbsoluteCare medical center and pharmacy in Greenbelt, Maryland
Date of death: 2 April 2020

When the coronavirus began circulating in the Washington DC region, Sean Boynes went to work.

“Patients need their medicine,” he told his wife, Nicole.

The medical center where he worked bills itself as “a medical home for the sickest of the sick”; many of its patients struggle with chronic illness and poverty. Boynes was the Greenbelt branch’s first pharmacist.

He was an “incredible, loving guy”, said Dr Gregory Foti, chief of innovative operations at AbsoluteCare.

Boynes was a proud Howard University alumnus and had three degrees – a BS in biology, a master’s in exercise physiology and a doctorate in pharmacy – from the institution.

In early March, Boynes and his wife began feeling sick. Boynes didn’t want to stop working but thought “taking a sick day might be OK”, Nicole said. He also took a break from being a jungle gym to his eight- and 11-year-old girls. Nicole called him “Super Dad”.

Nicole got better, but Sean, who had asthma, saw his breathing deteriorate. On 25 March, Nicole dropped him at the hospital doors. The medical staff confirmed that he had Covid-19. The family never saw him again.

Foti said AbsoluteCare follows CDC recommendations, such as providing staff with face masks, and declined to comment on where Boynes was infected. He said “it was literally impossible to tell” where Boynes had contracted the virus.

To honor him, AbsoluteCare is naming the Greenbelt pharmacy after Boynes.

– Sarah Jane Tribble

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Dorothy Boles Photograph: The Boles Family

Dorothy Boles, 65
A nurse and pastor who tended to bodies and souls

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Greenwood Leflore hospital in Greenwood, Mississippi
Date of death: 3 April 2020

Dorothy Boles had two callings: one as a healer and the other as an ordained minister.

Mama Boles, as she was known, was a counselor and caretaker, said longtime friend and colleague Glory Boyd.

She mentored aspiring ministers at First Chosen Tabernacle church and welcomed recovering patients into her home.

“She went over, above and beyond,” said Boyd, the hospital’s chief nursing officer. “She cared for other people before she cared for herself.”

When patients leaving the hospital didn’t have the means to recover on their own, Boles opened her home to them, her son, Marcus Banks, told a local paper. Most stayed a few days. One young man stayed five years.

“Once she nursed him back to health, he just hung around,” Banks told the newspaper. “She just felt that nobody could take care of him like she could.”

Boles was admitted 22 March to the hospital where she had worked for 42 years. She was among the first four people to die of Covid-19 in Leflore county.

The hospital renamed the nurses’ station in her memory.

– Michaela Gibson Morris

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Jesus Villaluz Photograph: Holy Name Medical Center

Jesus Villaluz, 75
He took the time to put patients at ease

Occupation: Patient transport worker
Place of work: Holy Name medical center in Teaneck, New Jersey
Date of death: 3 April 2020

After Jesus Villaluz died from Covid-19 complications, colleagues lined the hallway at Holy Name medical center in Teaneck, New Jersey, to say goodbye. They’d never done that for anyone else.

“Jesus knew many and meant a lot to all of us, so this gesture felt like the right thing to do,” said Nicole Urena, a hospital spokesperson.

The hospital and surrounding Bergen county have been hit hard by the pandemic. By 8 May, Holy Name had treated more than 6,000 Covid patients, 181 of whom died.

Villaluz worked at Holy Name for 27 years. In a Facebook post, the hospital memorialized Villaluz’s generosity: he once won a raffle and shared the winnings with colleagues, an anecdote the New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, later repeated. Family members declined requests for an interview.

A co-worker, Hossien Dahdouli, said Villaluz’s compassion was exemplary. He never rushed anyone, took the time to chat with patients and was always concerned for their privacy and safety, Dahdouli said.

Years ago, after a stressful day caring for ICU patients, Dahdouli asked Villaluz why he always appeared so happy.

“He said, ‘My worst day at work is better than someone’s best day as a patient.’”

– Anna Almendrala

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Don Ryan Batayola Photograph: Nina Batayola

Don Ryan Batayola, 40
Family vacations and reggae gave rhythm to his life

Occupation: Occupational therapist
Place of work: South Mountain healthcare and rehabilitation center in Vauxhall, New Jersey
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Don and Nina Batayola had planned to leave for Europe on 4 April for a 10-day vacation. The couple loved to travel on their own or with their children, Zoie, 10, and Zeth, 8.

Disney World. Road trips to Canada. Every year they spent a week on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Don’s love of reggae music prompted a 2016 trip to Jamaica to visit Bob Marley’s birthplace.

The Batayolas, both occupational therapists, moved to New Jersey from the Philippines 13 years ago.

“He loved to help,” Nina said. “He had such the ability to make everybody smile or laugh.”

Don worked with at least one patient and a handful of colleagues who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, and in late March, he developed symptoms. On 31 March, Nina came home from work to find her husband struggling to breathe. She dialed 911.

Nina developed symptoms soon after her husband was hospitalized. Self-isolating at home, Nina spoke with Don every day. She thought he seemed to be improving but, on 4 April – the day they had once planned to depart for Europe – his heart suddenly stopped.

– Michelle Andrews

Photograph:
Patrick Cain Photograph: Kelly Indish

Patrick Cain, 52
A proud father and Canadian, nurse was an early Covid-19 casualty

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: McLaren Flint hospital in Flint, Michigan
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Patrick Cain was always “close to his patients”, said Teresa Ciesielski, a nurse and former colleague. Cain, whom Ciesielski described as a proud Canadian, met his wife, Kate, in 1994, when they both worked in Texas. They had a son.

“He was an amazing father,” Ciesiekski said. “He was always talking about his kid.”

Cain’s ICU work meant caring for patients awaiting Covid-19 test results. Some days, he worked outside the room where patients with Covid-19 symptoms patients were seen. The hospital hadn’t provided protective gear, despite his requests, according to Kelly Indish, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 875, his union.

On 26 March, he texted Indish. He was worried he had been exposed to the virus the week before, and he hadn’t had a mask. “McLaren screwed us,” he wrote.

A hospital spokesperson said employees received appropriate gear based on government guidelines. But those rules didn’t mandate N95s – known to block viruses – for workers who, like Cain, were providing care but weren’t performing aerosolizing treatments, which can release virus particles into the air.

Cain developed a fever, loss of appetite, dry cough, nausea; soon after he became the hospital’s first employee known to die of Covid-19.

– Shefali Luthra

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Susan Cicala Photograph: Stefaney Cicala

Susan Cicala, 60
A tireless nurse, she loved her children and travel

Occupation: Registered nurse
Places of work: Northern state prison in Newark, New Jersey; Clara Maass medical center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Susan Cicala worked long hours. A typical workday began at the hospital surgery department at 5.30am. She’d work there until 2pm, and an hour later would start her next eight-hour shift at a nearby state prison. She worked weekends, too.

As for sleep? “She must have slept somewhere, but I don’t know,” her son, Steven Cicala, said with a laugh. “She was the hardest worker I ever met.”

Reminiscing on Facebook, colleagues said she talked about her two children constantly. She started wrapping Christmas presents in May. She loved to travel, to Disney World and national parks, and saw vacations as opportunities to learn about the world beyond New Jersey – on a trip to Hawaii she delved into the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Cicala became sick in late March and died in early April; her family said they presume she contracted the virus at one of her jobs.

“She didn’t go anywhere else,” Steven said.

As of 21 May, the New Jersey department of corrections had tallied 152 Covid-19 cases at the prison where Cicala worked; 134 of those diagnoses were among staff. In early May the union representing Cicala and other workers filed a safety complaint saying precautions have been inadequate and may have led to Cicala’s death. A spokesperson for the prison healthcare agency that employed Cicala said it had followed all state and federal guidelines, and that staff were provided with personal protective equipment.

– Maureen O’Hagan

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Marilyn Howard Photograph: The Howard family

Marilyn Howard, 53
‘She was a mother to many’

Occupation: School nurse
Place of work: Spring Creek community school in Brooklyn, New York
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Marilyn Howard was known for her generosity and for never missing a party. Born in Guyana, she came to the US as a teenager. She helped raise her five brothers and put her own ambitions on hold for them. “She was a mother to many,” her brother Haslyn said.

In her mid-30s, she turned to her own career goals. She started university and steadily racked up four different nursing degrees. She had recently begun studying to become a nurse practitioner.

Howard, who lived in Queens, New York, was a school nurse in Brooklyn, where she regularly treated children with chronic illnesses associated with poverty. The week before schools closed, a fellow nurse had a fever and a cough.

Days later, Howard developed the same symptoms. After initially improving, she took a sudden turn on 4 April. As her brother drove her to the hospital, her heart stopped. She was declared dead at the hospital.

In tribute, hundreds turned out on Zoom to mark Nine-Night – a days-long wake traditional to the Caribbean – where loved ones shared photos, sang songs and recounted Marilyn’s impact on their lives.

The pandemic has since ripped through Marilyn’s extended family, infecting at least a dozen relatives. (One cousin was hospitalized but has since been released and is recovering.) The family has evolved into a sprawling triage team, monitoring one another’s temperatures, delivering food, charting emergency contacts and nearby hospitals.

Howard’s brothers said they wanted to start a foundation in her name to help aspiring nurses in the US and West Indies. “The best way to honor her spirit and her memory is to bring more nurses into this world,” said her brother Rawle. “We need more Marilyns around.”

Noa Yachot

Photograph:
Darrin Santos Photograph: Melissa Castro Santos

Darrin Santos, 50
‘He was my backbone’

Occupation: Transportation supervisor
Place of work: New York-Presbyterian Westchester Behavioral health center in White Plains, New York
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Melissa Castro Santos had just started a new treatment for multiple myeloma when her husband, Darrin, got sick.

For nearly two weeks, he isolated in their bedroom, while she recuperated from chemotherapy on the couch downstairs. After he began gasping for air, he went to the hospital. He died from Covid-19 several days later.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Castro Santos said.

As a transportation supervisor, Santos transported healthcare workers and equipment between hospitals in the New York metropolitan area. He loved his job, Castro Santos said, and was known to drive doctors wherever and whenever they were needed, through heavy traffic and snowstorms.

Castro Santos, who has been battling cancer since 2012, said her husband doted on their three teenage children, all avid athletes. He arranged his work schedule in order to attend as many of their games as possible. When he couldn’t make it, she would call him on FaceTime so he could catch glimpses of the action.

Castro Santos and her children buried Santos five days after he died, unable to hold a funeral. Their friends lined the streets in their cars in a show of support as the family drove to and from the cemetery.

Now Castro Santos is confronting cancer without her husband. “He was my backbone. He was the one who took me to chemotherapy and appointments.”

– Anna Jean Kaiser

Photograph:
Daisy Doronilla Photograph: Handout from the family

Daisy Doronila, 60
Doronila was among dozens of people infected with the coronavirus at a Hudson county jail

Occupation: Nurse
Place of work: Hudson county correctional facility in Kearny, New Jersey
Date of death: 5 April 2020

Daisy Doronila treated her patients at the Hudson county correctional facility, a New Jersey prison, with the utmost kindness, no matter what they had done.

“There would be people there for the most heinous crimes,” said her daughter, Denise Rendor, 28, “but they would just melt towards my mother because she really was there to give them care with no judgment.”

Doronila emigrated from the Philippines as a young nurse. She loved fashionable clothes and eating seafood on the waterfront in New York City, her daughter said.

“Daisy could handle herself,” said the county director of corrections, Ron Edwards, describing her as sophisticated, intelligent and compassionate. “If someone got obnoxious with her, she’d put them in their place and call for help if she needed to.”

Like many jails and prisons, the facility where Doronila worked has been hit hard by the virus: as of 10 April, 27 inmates and 68 staff members had tested positive. Four people who worked at the jail, including Doronila, have died, according to officials.

Doronila, a devout Catholic who had been planning a trip to Israel with friends from church, developed a cough in mid-March. One doctor told her she probably had strep throat; another said fever wasn’t high enough to merit a coronavirus test.

She offered to return to work, but as the days went by, her condition grew worse. On 21 March, she was hospitalized for shortness of breath. The next day, she was put on a ventilator. Two weeks later, she passed away.

Rendor said she and her mother were looking forward to sharing the next chapters in life together. For her mother, retirement at 65. For Rendor, marriage and perhaps starting her own family.

“It was about to get really, really good,” she said.

– CJ

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Aleyamma John and her granddaughter Photograph: Ginu John

Aleyamma John, 65
‘We’re failing miserably without her

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Queens hospital center in Queens, New York
Date of death: 5 April 2020

Aleyamma John’s family wanted her to retire. Her husband, John, an MTA transit worker, had stopped working a few years earlier. He and their son Ginu urged her to follow suit. “We told her, ‘I’m sure dad wants to see the world with you – you need to give him that opportunity,’” Ginu said.

She demurred. “I think she found fulfillment in being able to serve,” Ginu said. “She was able to hold people’s hands, you know, even when they were deteriorating and be there for them.” She began her career as a nurse in India 45 years ago; she and her husband emigrated to the United Arab Emirates, where their two sons were born, and moved to New York in 2002.

Ginu said his mother, a devout Christian, found joy in tending to her vegetable garden and doting on her two grandchildren. She cooked dishes from her native India and filled the Long Island home she shared with John, Ginu and Ginu’s family with flowers.

In March, as Queens hospital center began to swell with Covid-19 patients, Aleyamma sent her family of a photo of herself and colleagues wearing surgical hats and masks, but not enough personal protective equipment. Days later she developed a fever and tested positive for the virus. Johnny, Ginu and Ginu’s wife, Elsa, a nurse practitioner, also became ill.

When Aleyamma’s breathing became labored, her family made the difficult decision to call 911. It would be the last time they saw her. “We’re 17 days in, and I feel like we’re failing miserably without her,” Ginu said.

Danielle Renwick

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Edwin Montanano Photograph: Michelle Helminski

Edwin Montanano, 73
An unflappable nurse who loved playing tour guide

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Wellpath at Hudson county correctional facility in New Jersey
Date of death: 5 April 2020

Edwin Montanano went to the US Open every year. He loved Broadway shows, especially Miss Saigon, but also Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera and Cats. He liked candy – Symphony bars and M&Ms. And he and his wife, Annabella, relished in hosting visitors.

“My parents always had an open-door policy, and [growing up] it was always a very busy house,” said Michelle Helminski, his daughter. “When relatives or friends would come to visit, my dad would take them to New York – he was an expert tour guide.”

In more recent years, his four young grandchildren became a focal point in his life.

Edwin, who studied nursing in his native Philippines, worked at St Michael’s medical center in New Jersey for 30 years alongside Annabella; Michelle and her brother, Matthew, were even born at the hospital. After retiring, Edwin returned to work as a nurse at a nearby prison.

Helminski said she does not know whether he contracted the virus at work, but as of May, at least three other workers at the prison had died of Covid-19. A representative from Wellpath, the company that employed Edwin, wrote: “Our clinical personnel have ongoing access to masks, gowns, and other PPE, as well as the training to use it effectively.”

Edwin developed Covid-19 symptoms in late March and died at St Michael’s.

– Danielle Renwick

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Adiel Montgomery Photograph: Griselda Bubb-Johnson

Adiel Montgomery, 39
‘You could count on Adiel for anything

Occupation: Security guard
Place of work: Kingsbrook Jewish medical center in Brooklyn, New York
Date of death: 5 April 2020

When Griselda Bubb-Johnson couldn’t reach her friend Marva – hospitalized with Covid-19 – she called her son, Adiel Montgomery.

Montgomery, a security guard in the hospital’s emergency department, found his mother’s friend in the ICU. He then did “everything for her”, Bubb-Johnson said. When Marva was cold, he got a blanket. When she was hungry, he got food. When her phone died, he found a charger.

“Some people boast about their children, but I didn’t have to,” Bubb-Johnson said, “because everybody knew you could count on Adiel for anything.”

Montgomery doted on residents as a part-time supervisor at the Urban Resource Institute, a domestic violence shelter. He invited his godbrothers to her home for Golden State Warriors games, Thanksgiving and sometimes for his mom’s renowned oxtail stew.

Two weeks after Montgomery noted he couldn’t taste his lunch, he experienced acute chest pain. When, after 12 hours in the ER, his heart stopped “nobody could believe it,” Bubb-Johnson said.

Montgomery had been vocal about a lack of personal protective equipment for hospital security guards, according to a New York Times report. The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.

Montgomery’s 14-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, never got to say goodbye. She wrote a poem to put in the coffin.

“Don’t worry,” Bubb-Johnson told her. “He’ll read it. I promise.”

– Eli Cahan

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Valeria Viveros Photograph: The family of Valeria Viveros/eyJpdiI6Ikg1REJRWDgwRW4yUWxOTUlyeiszR0E9PSIsInZhbHVlIjoiTWp0UFNYSE5ZaXNcL2Zzc2pBc1NmZVwvNThnZDBtOTI5XC9BdlVsV2Jtc090TSt0UkFmYXZWRzZjZG5BRVlwXC83Z1giLCJtYWMiOiIzM2YzMjYxNjMxZDIzYjQ3MTVkNjBkZmQwOWU1NTE2ZDk1OGM5NjFmYzQ5OGZiY2ExYmQ4ZGU0MGEwOGU5NDMzIn0=

Valeria Viveros, 20
She was just starting on a path to becoming a nurse

Occupation: Nursing assistant
Place of Work: Extended Care hospital of Riverside, California
Date of Death: 5 April 2020

Valeria Viveros was “barely blooming”, developing the skills and ambition to pursue a nursing career, said Gustavo Urrea, her uncle. Working at Extended Care hospital of Riverside was her first job.

Viveros, born in California to Mexican immigrants, grew attached to her patients at the nursing home, bringing them homemade ceviche, Urrea said. About a month ago, as he watched her cook, play and joke with her grandmother, he noticed how much her social skills had grown.

When she would say “Hi, tío,” in her playful, sweet, high-pitched voice, “it was like the best therapy you could have,” Urrea recalled. Viveros, who lived with her parents and two siblings, was enrolled in classes at a community college.

Viveros began to feel sick on 30 March, went to a nearby hospital and was sent home with Tylenol, Urrea said. By 4 April, she was too weak to get out of bed on her own. She left in an ambulance and never came back.

“We’re all destroyed,” he said. “I can’t even believe it.”

On 5 April, county health officials reported a coronavirus outbreak had sickened 30 patients and some staff at the nursing home where she worked. Trent Evans, general counsel for Extended Care, said staffers were heartbroken by her death.

Viveros was “head over heels in love with the residents that she served”, he said. “She was always there for them.”

– MB

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Roy Chester Coleman Photograph: Shlonda Clark

Roy Chester Coleman, 64
At work, church and home, army veteran gave it his all

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Overton Brooks VA medical center in Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of death: 6 April 2020

Shlonda Clark calls her father her “favorite superhero”.

It was one of Roy Coleman’s many roles. For the past 11 years, the army veteran and emergency medical technician worked as a housekeeper at the VA hospital in his home town. He was a church deacon, Sunday school teacher and usher. He also volunteered with special-needs adults.

Roy had a big family, with three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“He was funny, he was kind, he was giving,” said Mabel Coleman, his wife of 40 years.

“If he didn’t like you, something was wrong with you,” added Clark.

Coleman fell ill on 23 March. After three trips to the emergency room, he was admitted on 27 March, with a fever and labored breathing.

He tested positive for Covid-19 and died at the hospital where he worked.

His family said he was concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment. The VA medical center said by email that it provides protective gear “in accordance with CDC guidelines”.

– Katja Ridderbusch

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Rose Harrison Photograph: Photo courtesy of Amanda William

Rose Harrison, 60
Selfless and sassy, Alabama nurse cared for a Covid-19 patient at a nursing home

Occupation: Nurse
Place of work: Marion Regional nursing home in Hamilton, Alabama
Date of death: 6 April 2020

Rose Harrison lived to serve others – her husband, three daughters, grandchildren and the residents of the nursing home where she worked. Though the Alabama nurse was selfless, she also had a sassy edge to her personality and was given to fits of pique behind the wheel, her daughter, Amanda Williams said.

“Her personality was so funny, you automatically loved her,” Williams said. “She was so outspoken. If she didn’t agree with you, she’d tell you in a respectful way.”

Williams was not wearing a mask when she cared for a patient who later tested positive for Covid-19 at Marion Regional nursing home in Hamilton, Alabama, her daughter said. She later developed a cough, fatigue and a low-grade fever, but kept reporting to duty all week. Officials from the nursing home did not return calls for comment.

On 3 April, Williams drove her mother to a hospital. The following evening, Harrison discussed the option of going on a ventilator with loved ones on a video call, agreeing it was the best course. Williams believed that her mother fully expected to recover.

–– CJ

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Jana Prince Photograph: Talisa Pace

Jana Prince, 43
A proud New Orleanian and community caretaker

Occupation: Case Manager
Place of work: Salvation Army in New Orleans, Louisiana
Date of death: 6 April 2020

Since high school, Jana Prince knew she wanted to be a social worker. She grew up with cerebral palsy, wearing a leg brace and diligently practicing physical therapy so she could walk. Kids bullied her about her disability, but nothing would stop Jana from connecting with her community. A “natural New Orleanian”, her brother Paul Prince said, Jana was outgoing, bubbly and loving.

“She was trying to share her strength with other people, because she just didn’t want to see people suffer,” said cousin Talisa Pace. “She really wanted to help the black community.”

One day in mid-March, Jana had trouble breathing, Paul said. She was in the hospital for more than a week before she was intubated, and died the next day. Her mother Barbara Prince died of the virus three days later. The family said they did not know whether she was infected at work, especially given how early on in the pandemic she became infected; the Salvation Army declined to comment.

“I don’t know how one would have survived without the other,” Paul said. The inseparable duo lived together and got along like Laverne and Shirley. They often helped take care of Paul’s twin six-year-old boys after school; Jana was like another mother to them, he said.

Jana and Pace had dreamed of opening a combination coffee shop and counseling center in New Orleans. Pace doesn’t want to do it without her, but would name part of the business after Jana.

“She would have been the highlight of the whole place. Everybody would be coming for her,” Pace said.

– Theresa Gaffney, City University of New York

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Mario Araujo Photograph: Richard Whitehead

Mario Araujo, 49
Lighthearted and warm, he was Chicago’s first firefighter to die of Covid-19

Occupations: Firefighter and emergency medical technician
Place of work: Chicago fire department truck company 25
Date of death: 7 April 2020

Despite fighting fires and treating the injured for nearly 20 years, Mario Araujo remained goofy and light.

He had an uncanny ability to pry open roofs and pop open doors, said Richard Whitehead, a fellow firefighter. But he also loved playing virtual slot machines and cracking jokes.

“He was always kidding around. You could never take him serious,” Whitehead said. “But when it came time to go to work, he was just always ready to go.”

He was the first Chicago firefighter to die from the coronavirus, the department confirmed. Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, honored him on Twitter: “Mario selflessly dedicated his life to protecting our communities.”

Araujo approached his relationship with his girlfriend, Rosa Castillo, 48, and her son, Leo, seven, with the same care. He was attentive, picking up Leo from school and giving him a tablet computer so they could communicate when he traveled.

“He taught my son a lot, even if they didn’t share the same blood,” Castillo said.

Castillo told Leo that God took Araujo to ease his suffering. She said her child believes he is an angel: “He hugs me and says, ‘Mom, I can feel Daddy with us.’”

– Carmen Heredia Rodriguez

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Ali Dennis Guillermo Photograph: Romielyn Guillermo

Ali Dennis Guillermo, 44
A nurse who fought for his life in the ICU where he worked

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Long Island community hospital in East Patchogue, New York
Date of death: 7 April 2020

In 2004, Ali Dennis Guillermo, his wife, Romielyn, and their daughter uprooted their lives in the Philippines and moved to New York.

Everything fell into place. The former nursing instructor landed a job at Long Island community hospital, often working in intensive care or the emergency room. He enjoyed the intensity of ER work, his wife said.

As years passed, the couple had two sons and settled into a close-knit Filipino community on Long Island.

He was devoted to his three children.

“He was such a lovely and good father,” Romielyn said.

As Covid-19 emerged, he was assigned to patients who were transitioning out of intensive care. Many of the nurses on his floor had gotten sick, and “everybody was scared,” Romielyn said.

In late March, he began to feel achy, with a fever that soared to 102F (38.9C). Within days, his blood oxygen level plummeted.

His nails turned blue, an effect of low blood oxygen levels, and he asked his wife to take him to the ER. That was the last time they spoke. Guillermo was intubated in the ICU unit where he had worked. Nearly two weeks later, he died.

–– MA

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Kevin Leiva Photograph: Vito Cicchetti

Kevin Leiva, 24
He was the second of his EMT crew to die of Covid-19

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Saint Clare’s Health in Passaic, New Jersey
Date of death: 7 April 2020

When Kevin Leiva died of Covid-19 in early April, it was a second crushing loss to his close-knit team of EMT workers. Their colleague, Israel Tolentino Jr, had died one week before.

“People were scared that everyone was going to die from it,” said Vito Cicchetti, a director at Saint Clare’s Health, where the men worked. “After Izzy died, we all started getting scared for Kevin.”

Leiva, according to an obituary, “was always worried about his crew”. He was proud of his work and said: “Becoming an EMT was an act of God.”

He met his wife, Marina, online while they were in high school. He loved spending time at their home, playing guitar and tending to his tegu lizards, AJ and Blue.

As Covid-19 spread, the station’s three ambulances each handled up to 15 dispatches a shift, roughly twice as many as usual. EMTs often responded to calls continuously, stopping only to clean their personal protective equipment and disinfect the ambulance.

Leiva “always had a joke” that helped to defuse stressful situations and bring his co-workers together, Cicchetti said.

– MA

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Thomas Soto Photograph: Courtesy of Jesse Soto

Thomas Soto, 59
A loving grandfather, Soto was looking forward to spending more time with his family

Occupation: Radiology clerk
Place of work: Woodhull medical center in Brooklyn, New York
Date of death: 7 April 2020

After more than 30 years at one of New York City’s busy public hospitals, Thomas Soto loved his job but was looking forward to retiring, said his son, Jesse Soto, who lived with him. Thomas looked forward to visits with his four-year-old grandson.

“They did everything together,” said Jesse. He often shared meals with the little boy and took him to a local toy store.

At Thomas’s busy station near the emergency room, he greeted patients and took down their information.

“Everybody saw him before their X-rays,” Jesse, 29, said. “He smiled all day, made jokes. He was a kind man.”

As Covid-19 patients began to overwhelm Woodhull and other emergency rooms across the city, Jesse said that at first, his father didn’t have any protective gear. (The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.)

He eventually got a mask. But he soon grew sick, developing a high fever, body aches and a cough. After a week, Soto said, “he couldn’t take it any more”.

He was admitted at Woodhull and died two days later.

– MA

Photograph:
Vianna Thompson Photograph: Family of Vienna Thompson

Vianna Thompson, 52
Thompson texted from the bedroom: ‘Call the ambulance, I can hardly breathe’

Occupation: Nurse
Place of work: VA Sierra Nevada health care system and Northern Nevada medical center in Reno, Nevada
Date of death: 7 April 2020

In late March, Vianna Thompson spent two night shifts caring for a co-worker who was suffering from Covid-19. Two weeks later, she was lying in an intensive care unit, with a colleague holding her hand.

Thompson and Bruce McAllister, the man she treated, were among three VA healthcare workers in Reno, Nevada, who died within a two-week span from the novel coronavirus.

“It’s pretty devastating. It’s surreal. Reno’s not that big of a city,” said Robyn Underhill, a night nurse who worked with Thompson.

Thompson was born Vianna Fye in Port Huron, Michigan. She met her husband, Bob, in 1991 on the Osan airbase in South Korea, where she was a veterinary technician and cared for military police dogs. They bonded over two-step dancing and country music.

Vianna was a proud mother who worked long hours to provide for her three sons, buying them saxophones, drums and keyboards so they could play jazz and country music.

“She was just sweet, big-hearted, caring, unselfish,” Bob Thompson said. Vianna came to work with a cough on 29 March, a day after McAllister died. ”We were all very concerned,” Underhill said. “Call it intuition, call it ‘Spidey sense’, but I knew that moment that she was coughing that this was not going to end well.”

That shift was Thompson’s last. Over the next four days, she wrestled with fever, weakness and shortness of breath. The following Thursday, she texted her husband from the bedroom: “Call the ambulance, I can hardly breathe.”

She was taken to the VA hospital and put on a ventilator. On 17 March, as her organs began to fail, Thompson’s colleagues connected to Bob on FaceTime so he could say goodbye.

As a veteran, she qualified for an “honor flight”, in which the patient’s body is covered with a black box and wheeled through the hospital while others line up and salute. Because of the infectious nature of the coronavirus, a US flag could not be safely draped over her body, so a family friend walked in front of her and carried it.

Thompson said the ceremony drew more people lining the hallways than staff had seen in 20 years. “God’s getting a hell of a nurse,” he said.

– MB

Photograph:
Saif Titi Photograph: The Titi family

Saif Titi, 72
His warmth and generosity brought diverse clients to his pharmacy

Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of work: Noble Pharmacy in Jersey City, New Jersey
Date of death: 7 April 2020

When the pandemic hit, Saif Titi was working six days a week at his Jersey City pharmacy and had no interest in slowing down. As was his way, he wanted to be helpful.

“He didn’t really run it as a business,” says Titi’s son, Justin. “He wasn’t trying to make profit. He was really just trying to help people.”

Titi was born in Jaffa in the last days of British rule in Palestine and grew up a refugee in the Gaza Strip. After studying in Egypt, Austria and Spain, he immigrated to New Jersey in 1972 and bought Noble Pharmacy a decade later.

The pharmacy became a fixture in the community, known as a place immigrants could go for help and advice, often in their native language, as Titi spoke Spanish and German in addition to English and his native Arabic. If they couldn’t afford medication, he would give it to them for free. “All different types of people from different cultures would come and they would instantly fall in love with him,” Justin says.

Active in the local Arab-American community, Titi gave to charity and sent money home regularly. A Facebook tribute included dozens of stories of his generosity and mentorship. “We all lost the sweetest and the most noble man on earth,” wrote one relative.

Titi, a father of three and grandfather of two, developed symptoms of Covid-19 in late March. He died in the hospital on 7 April. His wife, Rachelle, also became infected and has taken some six weeks to recover. In quarantine, the family has been unable to grieve together.

-Noa Yachot

Photograph:
Leo Dela Cruz Photograph: The family of Leo Dela Cruz

Leo Dela Cruz, 57
A beloved geriatric psychiatrist and church musician remembered for his cooking skills

Occupation: Geriatric psychiatrist
Place of work: Christ hospital and CarePoint health in Jersey City, New Jersey
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Dr Leo Dela Cruz was nervous about going to work in the weeks before he died, his friends said. Like many in the region, Christ hospital had an influx of Covid-19 patients and faced a shortage of ventilators and masks.

Dela Cruz was a geriatric psychiatrist and didn’t work in coronavirus wards. But he continued to see patients in person. In early April, Dela Cruz, who lived alone, complained only of migraines, his friends said. Within a week his condition worsened, and he was put on a ventilator at a nearby hospital. He died soon after.

Friends said he may have been exposed at the hospital. (In a statement, hospital representatives said he didn’t treat Covid-19 patients.)

Dela Cruz, the oldest of 10 siblings, came from a family of healthcare professionals. His friends and family – from Cebu, Philippines, to Teaneck, New Jersey – remembered his jovial personality on Facebook. He won “best doctor of the year” awards, played tennis, and cooked traditional Cebu dishes.

Nida Gonzales, a colleague, said he always supported people, whether funding a student’s education or running a church mental health program. “I feel like I lost a brother,” she said.

– Ankita Rao

Photograph:
Mike Field Photograph: Valley Stream Fire Department

Mike Field, 59
A 9/11 first responder, he answered the call during the pandemic

Occupation: Volunteer emergency medical technician
Place of work: Village of Valley Stream, New York
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Mike Field had a strong sense of civic duty. An emergency medical technician, he was a first responder with the New York fire department (FDNY) on 9/11. He was also a member of his community’s all-volunteer fire department since 1987.

After he retired from FDNY in 2002, he took a job making and posting street signs with his local public works department. He continued to volunteer with Valley Stream’s fire department and mentored the junior fire department. When he wasn’t responding to emergencies or training future emergency technicians he led a Boy Scout troop and volunteered for animal causes.

“Here’s somebody who cares about the community and cares about its people,” said Valley Stream’s mayor, Ed Fare, who had known Mike since the seventh grade.

Stacey Field, his wife, said he found his calling early, after his own father experienced a heart attack. “When the fire department EMTs came and helped his dad, he decided that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.

Their three sons – Steven, 26; Richie, 22; and Jason, 19 –– have followed in their father’s footsteps. Steven and Richie are EMTs in New York; Jason plans on training to become one as well. All three volunteer at the same fire station their father did.

In late March, Mike and fellow volunteer responders were called to an emergency involving a patient showing symptoms of Covid-19. Field died on 8 April.

– SJ

Photograph:
Devin Francis Photograph: Family of Devin Francis

Devin Francis, 44
Dedicated dad and technician ‘was as smart as they come’

Occupation: Radiology technician
Place of work: Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami, Florida
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Devin Francis was due to get married 27 June to his longtime love, Micela Scott, mother of their 11-year-old daughter, Dekayla.

Scott said her fiance was a devoted father.

“He’d take [Dekayla] to school every morning. He’d help her with her homework,” she said. “He just wanted peace to his life and us to have a good life.”

“He had a very jovial spirit,” said his youngest sister, Junette Francis.

Francis said she urged her brother, who worked in the emergency room, to get tested when she noticed that his usual light cough had become pronounced. (She and Micela later tested positive for the virus; both are now healthy.)

Devin took a Covid-19 test at Jackson Memorial after his shift on 6 April – it came back positive. His breathing became labored and he died early 8 April after EMS arrived at his home.

His family and a hospital representative said it was unclear whether he came into contact with patients with Covid-19. Devin also worked in fleet services for American Airlines.

Colleagues admired his work ethic.

“No matter where we were in life, he never had less than two jobs,” said Milton Gonzalez, a hospital coworker. “He was as smart as they come.”

– Sharon Jayson

Photograph:
Luis Caldera-Nieves Photograph: Ashley Ulker

Luis Caldera-Nieves, 63
The jovial ‘Puerto Rican Santa Claus’ trained scores of other OB-GYNs

Occupation: Obstetrician-gynecologist
Place of work: University of Miami and Jackson health systems, Miami, Florida
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Somos felices.” That was Dr Luis Caldera-Nieves’ signature sign-off after a cesarean section or at the end of a difficult shift. “We’re happy,” he meant, and often, when he was around, it was true.

Caldera-Nieves, a popular OB-GYN, trained scores of doctors and helped bring thousands of babies into the world in his 25 years at the University of Miami and Jackson health systems.

Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, he worked at an air force base before joining UM, said Dr Jaime Santiago, a longtime co-worker. Caldera-Nieves was so devoted to his patients that he often gave them his private phone number – and his wife’s, Santiago said.

Because he was so jovial, he earned the nickname “the Puerto Rican Santa Claus”, Santiago said.

“He was truly loved and admired by everyone who worked with him, and will be remembered for his humor and never-ending positive energy,” said Dr Jean-Marie Stephan, who trained under Caldera-Nieves.

In a statement, UM and Jackson confirmed Caldera-Nieves died from complications of Covid-19 and said they “grieve the loss of our esteemed and beloved colleague.” He is survived by his wife and six adult children.

– MB

Photograph:
default photo Photograph: The Guardian

Susan Sisgundo, 50
Friends say neonatal nurse was a baby whisperer

Occupation: Neonatal ICU nurse
Place of work: Bellevue hospital in New York City
Date of death: 8 April 2020

With eight siblings, Susan Sisgundo had to fight to stand out, whether it was academics or a new dance move, friend Lowelia Avellana said.

The two met in grade school in the Philippines. Avellana moved to New York; Sisgundo followed. They studied nursing and lived in Queens, 10 minutes apart.

Sisgundo worked in one of the country’s busiest hospitals, which in mid-March filled with Covid-19 patients. A hospital spokesperson said its employees had appropriate personal protective equipment.

In the neonatal intensive care unit, Sisgundo was a baby whisperer, adept at coaxing the fussiest newborn to sleep.

“She wanted to have babies,” Avellana said, “but she wasn’t lucky to find a good guy.”

In March, Sisgundo started feeling sick. When she struggled to breathe, she was taken to Queens hospital, where Avellana works. The hospital was overwhelmed, and Avellana couldn’t reach her friend before she was intubated. She visited her every day.

The friends had planned to travel to the Philippines later this year to celebrate their birthdays. Now Avellana is going to bring her best friend home.

– Kathleen Horan

Photograph:
Louis Torres Photograph: Lloyd Torres

Louis Torres, 47
He worked in a hospital, like his mother. They died a day apart

Occupation: Food service director
Place of work: Queens Boulevard extended care facility in Queens, New York
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Louis Torres went into the family business. He grew up adoring his mother’s Filipino home cooking, so it was natural to channel his passion for food into comforting others. As a food service director at a nursing home in his native Queens, he could cook and work in healthcare as his mother did.

Feeling terrible on 30 March, Louis called his older brother, Lloyd, after work. “He was struggling to make it from the subway station,” Lloyd said.

Louis lived with his mother, Lolita, 73, a retired hospital clerk. She also had severe Covid-19 symptoms.

By the next day, mother and son had been taken by ambulance to separate hospitals. In the chaos, Lloyd said it took an entire day of panicked calls to locate their mother, who had been taken to a Queens emergency room.

A few days later, Lloyd was able to pray the rosary with Lolita over the phone, and it seemed to calm her. Before they hung up, she asked that Lloyd take care of his brother. Louis made the same request about his mother before going on a ventilator.

“Their last words to me [were to] take care of each other, my God,” Lloyd said.

On 7 April, Lolita died. Louis died the next day.

In the weeks since then, Lloyd was comforted by a dream.

“I woke up and smelled the frying of food,” he said, invoking his mother’s cooking. “That’s how she showed her love.”

– Kathleen Horan

Photograph:
J. Ronald Verrier Photograph: Family of J. Ronald Verrier

J Ronald Verrier, 59
Verrier was so committed to fighting the virus, he called into work meetings even after he got sick

Occupation: Surgeon
Place of work: St Barnabas hospital in the Bronx, New York
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Dr J Ronald Verrier spent the final weeks of his life tending to a torrent of patients infected with Covid-19. Workers at St Barnabas hospital struggled to find masks and gowns as staff set up makeshift morgues in the parking lot. (Many nurses continue to make cloth masks.)

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Verrier emigrated to the United States and had worked at St Barnabas for the last two decades, overseeing the general surgery residency program.

A towering presence with a wide, dimpled smile, Verrier was a natural mentor who was known to drop into patients’ rooms for impromptu birthday parties.

“He kept pushing me forward,” said Dr Christina Pardo, Verrier’s cousin and an obstetrician and gynecologist in New York. “I would call him and say, ‘I swear I failed that test,’ and he would laugh. He was my confidence when I didn’t have it.”

The Verrier family stretches across continents and Verrier kept them close, zipping around to a niece’s wedding in Belgium, a baptism in Florida and another wedding in Montreal in recent years. He had recently ferried medical supplies to Haiti, a decade after he had traveled to his homeland to tend to victims of the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Verrier helped steer St Barnabas’s efforts to increase its capacity as Covid-19 cases increased. “He was at the hospital every day,” Dr Ridwan Shabsigh, the surgery department’s chair, said. “This was a nonstop effort.”

In early April, Verrier discovered he was infected. After developing symptoms, he continued to call into meetings from his home in Woodmere, New York. Shabsigh spoke with Verrier on 7 April, and said his spirits were high. The next day, he was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died.

– SV

Photograph:
Capt. Franklin Williams Photograph: The Detroit Fire Department

Capt Franklin Williams, 57
‘It’s a nightmare’

Occupation: Firefighter and medical first responder
Place of work: Detroit fire department in Detroit, Michigan
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Capt Franklin Williams stood at the altar on his wedding day and pretended to hunt for the ring. He patted his chest, then his pockets and looked up at his soon-to-be wife with a “million-dollar smile”.

He was always clowning and “so silly”, said Shanita Williams, his wife, recalling how he always tried to make her laugh. Williams died from complications of the novel coronavirus on 8 April – one month before the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary.

Williams had been on an emergency call with a verified Covid-19 patient before falling ill, according to the Detroit fire department chief, Robert Distelrath. Crews are equipped with personal protective equipment including a gown, N95 mask and gloves, he said.

But it’s easy for a mask to slip – “when you’re giving [chest] compressions, your mask isn’t staying in place all the time,” said Thomas Gehart, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association.

When Williams fell sick on 24 March, he moved to his home’s guest bedroom to avoid infecting his wife. He never returned to work.

“I’m thankful and thank God for having him in my life,” Shanita said, adding that she keeps thinking, “it’s a nightmare and I’m going to wake up. But it’s not.”

–– SJT

Photograph:
Felicisimo -Tom- Luna Photograph: The Luna family

Felicisimo ‘Tom’ Luna, 62
Vivacious New Jersey nurse was planning his family’s next vacation

Occupation: Emergency room nurse
Place of work: Trinitas Regional medical center in Elizabeth, New Jersey
Date of death: 9 April 2020

Tom Luna was a joker, a lively and outgoing man who thrived on the fast-paced and varied action of the emergency room. He also adored his three daughters, something clear to all who knew him.

“Tom was a fantastic emergency nurse. He was well-liked and loved by his peers,” a spokesperson for the Trinitas emergency department said in a statement. “His greatest love was for his wife and daughters, who he was very proud of.”

His oldest daughter, Gabrielle, 25, followed his path to become an ER nurse. When Tom fell ill with the coronavirus, he was admitted at the hospital where she works. At the end of her 12-hour night shifts, she made sure he had breakfast and helped him change his clothes. She propped a family photo next to his bed.

Tom’s wife, Kit, also a nurse, said that when some of his symptoms appeared to let up, they talked about him recovering at home. He was a planner, she said, and was already talking about their next family vacation, maybe to Spain.

– CJ

Photograph:
Francis Molinari and his sibilings Photograph: Lisa Molinar

Francis ‘Frankie’ Molinari, 70
Ahero among heroes’, he cared for generations of patients

Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Places of work: Private practice, with admitting privileges at Clara Maass medical center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of death: 9 April 2020

In late March, Dr Francis “Frankie” Molinari told his sister Lisa he was “down for the count”, with chills, fever and trouble breathing.

“Frankie, you know what you have,” she recalled telling him.

Two days later, he collapsed at home and was rushed to Clara Maass medical center. Colleagues stayed by his side as he succumbed to Covid-19.

“We take solace in the fact that he was cared for by colleagues and friends who deeply loved and respected him,” his sister Janice wrote in a blog. “He died a hero among heroes.”

Frankie, a New Jersey native who was married with an adult daughter, was the oldest of four siblings. His sisters described him as an optimist who loved music, fishing and telling tall tales: he went to medical school in Bologna, Italy, and he liked to say he had played pinochle with the pope.

“A friend had once described us as four different legs of the same table,” Janice wrote. “Now I’m stuck on the fact that we are only a three-legged table. Less beautiful, less sturdy. Broken.”

He practiced medicine for over four decades, caring for generations of patients in the same family. His family suspects he contracted the coronavirus at his private practice.

– Laura Ungar

Photograph:
default photo Photograph: The Guardian

Quen Agbor Ako, 53
A nurse from Cameroon who liked to sing and dance

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: FutureCare Old Court nursing home, Randallstown, Maryland
Date of death: 10 April 2020

Quen Ako was known to wear stylish, bright clothing and break out in song and dance. Posting to an online memorial, friends, family and co-workers described a lively, compassionate woman.

“My memory of you is that of a warm person, one that will break out in songs of joy,” one friend wrote. Another described laughing at an inside joke with Ako just weeks before her death. “Did I for one second think that I would never hear that resounding, hearty laughter again?”

Born in Cameroon, Ako earned her nursing degree in the US and worked for a chain of nursing homes and rehabilitation centers that saw huge Covid-19 outbreaks. According to officials from Maryland’s department of health, the network of nine facilities confirmed 1,422 cases of Covid-19 and 181 deaths among patients and staff as of 26 June.

Ako’s family declined to be interviewed for this article, but told a local news station that she died of Covid-19. The Guardian independently verified Ako’s cause of death with one of her former co-workers. Ako’s employer did not respond to requests for comment about her death.

– Anna Jean Kaiser

Photograph:
Monica Echeverri Casarez Photograph: Family of Monica Echeverri Casarez

Monica Echeverri Casarez, 49
A surgical technician who made friends everywhere she went

Occupation: Surgical technician
Place of work: Detroit medical center Harper University hospital in Detroit, Michigan
Date of death: 11 April 2020

Monica Echeverri Casarez was in constant motion, said her husband, Jorge Casarez. The daughter of Colombian immigrants, she worked as a Spanish-English interpreter in clinical settings. She was the kind of person whose arrival at a mom-and-pop restaurant would elicit hugs from the owners. She also co-founded Southwest Detroit Restaurant Week, a not-for-profit that supports local businesses.

Twice a month, she scrubbed in as a surgical technician at Harper University hospital. “She liked discovering the beauty of how the body works and how science is clear and orderly,” Casarez said. She was organized and intuitive, qualities that are assets in the operating room.

On 21 March, she posted a photo of herself in protective gear with the caption: “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a bit nervous to be there now.” Since many elective surgeries had been canceled, Echeverri Casarez was tasked with taking the temperatures of people who walked into the hospital and making sure their hands were sterilized.

Soon after, Echeverri Casarez and Casarez began feeling ill. Quarantined together, Echeverri Casarez tried to make the best of the situation. She baked her husband a cake –– chocolate with white frosting. She died a few days later.

– DR

Photograph:
Bruce Davis Photograph: Davis Family

Bishop Bruce Edward Davis, 57
He practiced what he preached, caring for inmates with mental illness

Occupation: Shift leader for forensic service technicians
Place of work: Central State hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia
Date of death: 11 April 2020

In sermons at his Pentecostal church, Bishop Bruce Davis preached love. On weekdays, he practiced it by feeding, bathing and caring for patients at a maximum-security psychiatric hospital. Davis worked for 27 years at the state facility, said his wife, Gwendolyn Davis.

As a boy, Davis would break his pencils in half to share with his twin sister. At church, he hosted youth parades and gave away computers, bicycles and groceries. He distilled the Bible into simple lessons, she said, once winning over a parishioner with a sermon based on The Wizard of Oz.

When Covid-19 emerged, Davis and his co-workers at the psychiatric facility were told they couldn’t wear masks or gloves because it wasn’t part of their uniform, she said. Five days after a close co-worker tested positive for Covid, Davis was hospitalized, she said.

More than 70 workers at the hospital have tested positive for Covid-19, according to state data; Davis is one of two who have died. A hospital spokesperson declined to comment on Davis’ case.

After Davis’s illness, his entire household – Gwendolyn, three children and a grandchild – got sick with Covid-19, Gwendolyn said. Their adult son, who has autism, was hospitalized, Gwendolyn said. Their daughter, 22, recovered and returned to work at the same hospital.

“It is extremely hard for her to go back to work there,” Gwendolyn said.

Melissa Bailey

Photograph:
Roger Lidell Photograph: Bill Sohmer

Roger Liddell, 64
Hospital supply manager lacked protective gear for himself

Occupation: Supply manager
Place of work: McLaren Flint hospital in Flint, Michigan
Date of death: 10 April 2020

Roger Liddell was a family man. One of nine siblings, he frequently visited his extended family back in Mississippi. He was involved in his church and loved cooking, westerns and the Chicago Bears.

Liddell joined the Marine Corps after high school and eventually settled in Michigan, working at McLaren Flint for almost 20 years.

His job took him all over the hospital – including to floors with Covid-positive patients – and as the number of cases climbed, he grew worried. Liddell requested protective gear from his hospital, according to his union, but was denied since he didn’t treat patients. In an email, a hospital spokesperson said McLaren Flint had followed government guidelines to ensure employees received sufficient protective gear.

On 30 March, Liddell posted to Facebook: he had worked the previous week in the ICU and critical care unit, without PPE. “Pray for me God is still in control,” he wrote.

Liddell tested positive for Covid-19. He was put on a ventilator but died, leaving behind his wife, four children, two stepchildren and 11 grandchildren.

– Shefali Luthra

Photograph:
John Schoffstall Photograph: The Terre Haute Fire Department

John Schoffstall, 41
Firefighting and ‘helping people’ were in his blood

Occupation: Paramedic and firefighter
Place of work: Terre Haute fire department in Terre Haute, Indiana
Date of death: 12 April 2020

John Schoffstall grew up around firehouses, and it was at his own firehouse in Terre Haute, Indiana, that he was exposed to the coronavirus.

A paramedic and firefighter with the Terre Haute fire department for almost 12 years, Schoffstall died on 12 April at age 41. Glen Hall, the deputy chief, said the department has been responding every day to calls from patients showing symptoms of Covid-19, although investigations by the county health department and his own department determined Schoffstall contracted the virus from another firefighter. Four other firefighters became mildly ill.

Jennifer Schoffstall, his wife of 18 years, said her husband went to the hospital on 28 March.

“His breathing was so bad in the ER, they just decided to keep him,” she said. “He regressed from there.”

Hall said Schoffstall loved spending time with his family; the couple had a 17-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.

Schoffstall’s father had been a volunteer firefighter, Jennifer said, and her husband signed up for the New Goshen volunteer fire department when he turned 18.

“He loved the fire service and everything about it,” she said. “He loved helping people.”

SJ

Photograph:
Gary Sclar Photograph: Courtesy of Jennifer Sclar

Gary Sclar, 66
A whip-smart neurologist, Sclar was endlessly fascinated with the brain

Occupation: Neurologist
Place of work: Mount Sinai Queens in Queens, New York
Date of death: 12 April 2020

Gary Sclar was a whip-smart neurologist who loved comic books, Game of Thrones and Star Wars, said his daughter, Jennifer Sclar. He was deeply compassionate with a blunt bedside manner.

“My dad was fascinated with the brain and with science,” Jennifer Sclar said. “His work was his passion, and it’s what made him the happiest, besides my brother and me.” Set to retire in June, he was looking forward to writing about politics and neurology.

Gary Sclar saw patients who were showing Covid-19 symptoms and knew his age and underlying health conditions – he had diabetes – put him at risk for developing complications from the illness. His daughter pleaded with him to stop going in to the hospital.

In early April, he mentioned having lost his sense of smell, and on 8 April, he collapsed in his home. He was hospitalized a few days later and agreed to be intubated. “I don’t think he realized like that this was the end,” Sclar said. “He brought his keys. He brought his wallet.”

DR

Photograph:
Rose Taldon Photograph: Teadris Pope

Rose Taldon, 63
A former bus driver, she became a nurse at age 38

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: New England Baptist hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
Date of death: 12 April 2020

Rose Taldon was just 5ft tall. But when she bellowed their names out the window, her kids ran right home.

“She didn’t take any crap,” said her daughter, Teadris Pope.

Taldon and her husband raised three children on the same street where she grew up, in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Strong-willed and commanding respect, she earned a nursing degree while working in public transit for 23 years. Though she could be stern, she was quick to play-fight and tickle her eight grandkids, Pope said.

Taldon was generous: even as she lay in a hospital in April, exhausted from the coronavirus, she arranged to pay bills for an out-of-work friend, her daughter said.

It’s unclear whether Taldon caught the virus at her hospital, which was designated for non-Covid patients. Hospital officials said three patients and 22 staff had tested positive.

At 2am on Easter morning, a doctor offered to go into Taldon’s hospital room and connect Pope to her mother on a video call, since she couldn’t visit in person.

“I just talked until I had no words,” Pope said. “I was just telling her, ‘We’re so proud of you. You worked so hard raising us … You’ve gone through a hell of a fight.’”

An hour later, her mother was gone.

– MB

Photograph:
James “Mike” Anderson Photograph: The Anderson Family

James ‘Mike’ Anderson, 51
‘Gregarious’ mechanic maintained hospital air filters

Occupation: Maintenance mechanic
Place of work: St Mary medical center in Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Date of death: 13 April 2020

As he wheeled patients through hallways or responded to maintenance calls, James “Mike” Anderson was “gregarious”, said Mark Banchi, a hospital volunteer.

Banchi, who taught English at the high school Anderson had attended, said even as a student, he was “a personality larger than life”.

Anderson had “immeasurable” pride in his son and daughter, ages five and nine, Banchi said.

He had a low-profile though critical job: changing air filters in patients’ rooms, including those treated for Covid-19.

In early April, Anderson came down with what he thought was a cold. On 13 April, he was rushed to the hospital, where he died of acute respiratory distress syndrome from Covid-19.

David Stern, a lawyer pursuing a workers’ compensation claim on behalf of Anderson’s wife and children, said Anderson was exposed to contaminated air filters and spaces.

In an email, a hospital spokesperson said she was unable to provide additional information “out of respect for his and his family’s privacy”.

“His loss to the hospital is real,” Banchi said. “Some people lift spirits, some people make you glad you came that day, and Mike was one of those people.”

– Melissa Bailey

Photograph:
Michelle Abernathy Photograph: Family of Michelle Abernathy

Michelle Abernathy, 52
Housing supervisor committed herself to helping the vulnerable

Occupation: Residential services supervisor
Place of work: Elisabeth Ludeman developmental center in Park Forest, Illinois
Date of death: 13 April 2020

Barbara Abernathy said she is trying to figure out what to do with six bins of toys her daughter bought for neighborhood children.

Growing up in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood, Michelle Abernathy “was always trying to help somebody”, Barbara said.

Michelle spent decades investigating child abuse and neglect while holding night jobs mentoring children.

A supervisor at a state-run facility for the developmentally disabled adults, she bought clothes, games and snacks for residents. A staff memo lauded her “big heart and nurturing personality”.

She fell ill on 28 March. By the time she was hospitalized on 6 April, she was too weak to walk.

Three other workers at the facility died of Covid-19. A spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents workers at Ludeman, said that early in the pandemic staff had a “huge struggle” to get personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Illinois department of human services said it “can’t say precisely” how workers contracted the virus and that it was working to provide sufficient PPE.

After long professing that she was too busy for marriage, Abernathy had recently become engaged to her colleague Torrence Jones. She had planned to surprise her mother with the news but never had the chance.

– Mary Chris Jaklevic

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Billy Birmingham Sr. Photograph: The Birmingham family

Billy Birmingham Sr, 69
In ministry and rescue missions, ‘he put his all into it’

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Kansas City, Missouri, fire department
Date of death: 13 April 2020

Bill Birmingham Jr remembers the year his father took on a new career. The whole family studied, even acting out scenes to ensure Billy Birmingham Sr, a minister, was ready for his emergency medical technician exam.

“He put his all into it,” the son recalled.

Billy Birmingham passed the test. And from the late 1990s on, he served as an EMT and a minister.

His family rallied again when he pursued a doctorate in pastoral theology, which he earned in 2005. During nearly four decades as a minister, he opened two churches.

“He had a heart for other people,” his son said. “Whatever he could do for other people, he would do it.”

As a fire department EMT, he was exposed to the coronavirus. The cough came in March.

“‘I’m just tired.’ That’s what he kept saying,” his son said. His dad went to the hospital twice. The first time he told the staff about his symptoms and underlying health conditions, then they sent him home.

The second time he arrived in an ambulance. Just over two weeks later, as he lay dying, hospital staff set up a video chat so his family could see him one last time.

– Cara Anthony

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Linda Bonaventura Photograph: Alisa Bowens

Linda Bonaventura, 45
Lighthearted nurse ‘lit up the room’

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Wildwood healthcare center in Indianapolis, Indiana
Date of death: 13 April 2020

Even on bad days, Linda Bonaventura’s lighthearted sense of humor made people feel better, her sister Alisa Bowens said.

Bonaventura dedicated her career to children with special needs and seniors. She did her best to keep her spirits up while working 16-hour days.

“We like to say she was laughter,” Bowens said. “She lit up the room.”

In a statement, Ethan Peak, executive director of Wildwood, called Bonaventura a dedicated nurse who “would do anything for her residents and co-workers”.

As the list of patients and employees with Covid-19 grew longer at Wildwood, Bonaventura refused to live in fear, Bowens said.

Bowens recalled the day her sister confessed she was spraying herself with Lysol to kill the germs on her clothes. She did the same for a co-worker. A Wildwood spokesperson said the nursing home had sufficient personal protective equipment for employees.

The sisters, in one of their last conversations, told each other they would be at peace if death came during the pandemic. A short time later, Bonaventura tested positive. Just a week after coming down with a sore throat and fever, she died.

“She believed in fate,” Bowens said. “We shared that belief. But it was still a shock.”

– Cara Anthony

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Scott Geiger Photograph: Ben Geiger

Scott Geiger, 47
An ardent EMT who seemed to have nine lives

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Atlantic health system in Mountainside and Warren, New Jersey
Date of death: 13 April 2020

Scott Geiger wasn’t always enthusiastic about school, but at 16 he brought home a tome the size of two phone books. It was a manual for emergency medical technicians, and he devoured it, said his younger brother, Ben.

Scott was certified as an EMT at 17. He never married or had kids, but did not seem to miss those things.

“He was so focused on being an EMT and helping people in their most vulnerable and desperate moments,” Ben said. “That’s really what made him feel good.”

Geiger loved playing pool each week with friends. He was a loyal New York Jets football fan, content to joke about their follies and watch them lose. He was quiet. And he seemed to have nine lives, his brother said, surviving hospitalizations for epilepsy as a child and blood cancer as an adult.

When the coronavirus began to tear a path through northern New Jersey, he faced his work with resolve. He downplayed his symptoms when he first fell ill, in late March, but wound up spending 17 days on a ventilator before he died. The family has had to mourn separately, with the brothers’ father, who lived with Scott, in quarantine, and their mother confined to her room in a nursing home that has Covid-19 cases.

– Christina Jewett

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Pamela Hughes and her daughter, Brie Photograph: Angie McAllister

Pamela Hughes, 50
She remembered the small – but meaningful – details about those in her care

Occupation: Nursing assistant and medication aide
Place of Work: Signature HealthCARE at Summit Manor, Columbia, Kentucky
Date of Death: 13 April 2020

Pamela Hughes lived her entire life in rural Columbia, Kentucky, but longed for wide, sandy beaches. For vacation, Hughes and her daughter, Brie, 26, eagerly drove 14 hours to Daytona Beach, Florida, or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Hughes worked at Summit Manor, a nursing home in Columbia, for 32 years. She knew which residents preferred chocolate milk or applesauce with their medication; she remembered their favorite outfits and colors. Hughes’s usually shy demeanor vanished each December when she and co-worker Angie McAllister built a float for the town’s Christmas parade competition.

“We built 10 floats over 10 years,” McAllister said. “We got second place every year.”

Even after several residents tested positive for the coronavirus, Hughes dismissed her worsening cough as allergies or bronchitis. The nursing home was short on help and she wanted to serve her patients, Brie said.

Days later, the public health department suggested her mother get tested. She tested positive, and her health worsened – food tasted bitter, her fever soared, her hearing dulled. On 10 April, Hughes was taken by ambulance to a hospital, then by helicopter to Jewish hospital in Louisville. Barred from visiting, Brie said goodbye over FaceTime.

– SV

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Jenniffer Anderson-Davis Photograph: The Anderson family

Jenniffer Anderson-Davis, 44
Nurse with ‘heartwarming’ smile did her best for her children

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Meramec Bluffs Life Plan community in Ballwin, Missouri
Date of death: 14 April 2020

As a single mother, Jenniffer Anderson-Davis was determined to give her three children everything they needed, so she pursued her nursing degree while delivering pizza to make ends meet.

“She always did the best that she could to give them the best life,” her brother, Earl Anderson, said.

Most recently Anderson-Davis worked as an admission and discharge nurse at a senior living community. Her mother, Edna Anderson, said that Anderson-Davis was concerned about residents who returned to the facility after visiting Florida (it has since banned re-entry for residents who spent time away).

Anderson-Davis tested positive for Covid-19 on 9 April and died at home five days later. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened a fatality investigation at Meramec Bluffs on 16 April.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Jenniffer’s co-workers remember her as a thorough and well-respected nurse who had a smile that could warm any heart.” They did not respond to specific questions about how she may have become infected.

– Cara Anthony

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Anjanette Miller Photograph: Venus Donasco-Delfin

Anjanette Miller, 48
A nurse who was living out her dream of working in the United States

Occupation: Registered nurse
Places of work: Community First medical center and Kindred Lakeshore in Chicago, Illinois and Bridgeway Senior Living in Bensenville, Illinois
Date of death: 14 April 2020

As a child, Anjanette Miller dreamed of becoming a nurse and immigrating to the United States. She studied in her native Philippines and worked briefly in Saudi Arabia before fulfilling her wish in 2001.

Miller settled in Chicago, dividing her time between three care facilities, where she worked as a supervising nurse. Her sister, Venus Donasco-Delfin, said Miller was dedicated to her job and got along well with co-workers who shared her work ethic.

“At work, I think she was strict, but beyond work, she’s a great friend,” Donasco-Delfin said. She said Miller, one of five siblings, was the “pillar of the family” and supported relatives back home.

“I studied psychology for two years, but she kept calling me – and it’s a long-distance call from the US to the Philippines – and said, ‘No Venus, you’re making the wrong decision. You have to pursue nursing. You will make a difference,’” she said. Donasco-Delfin, who now lives in Canada, became a nurse.

Miller started feeling sick in mid-March and was diagnosed with Covid-19 in early April. She self-isolated at home, where she chronicled her illness on YouTube and Facebook, imploring healthcare workers to take Covid-19 seriously. She was hospitalized on 5 April and died nine days later.

A few years before she died, Miller told her family she had hoped to retire early and move back to the Philippines, where she wanted to pursue her other passion, film-making. Last year she traveled back home to shoot scenes for a project. “The movie she was making is about her life story,” Donasco-Delfin said. “But it’s not finished yet.”

Danielle Renwick

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Nestor Bautista Photograph: Cecilia Bautista

Nestor Bautista, 62
Quiet nursing aide was a diligent worker

Occupation: Nursing aide
Place of work: Clara Maass medical center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of death: 15 April 2020

Nestor Bautista came from a family of quiet men. He was quiet, too, said Cecilia Bautista, one of his four siblings.

Cecilia and Nestor came to the US from the Philippines in the 1980s. Cecilia became a nurse. Nestor, who had studied engineering, became a nursing aide.

Nestor lived with Cecilia’s family and worked at the same hospital for 24 years, she said. Nestor, who had diabetes, cooked for himself and “preferred to do things alone”.

He picked up extra shifts on his days off. Cecilia said: “He was just work, work, work.”

Eight days after he was hospitalized with Covid-19, Cecilia spoke to Nestor by phone. He said he felt OK. The next day, he was transferred to intensive care, where he died of cardiac arrest.

One of Nestor’s colleagues died the same day of Covid-19 complications. A hospital spokesperson declined to comment on their deaths, citing privacy.

Cecilia has placed an urn containing Nestor’s ashes in his bedroom. She plans to take his remains to the Philippines, and place them next to an older brother’s.

Nestor had few friends, she said, but this way, “if someone will visit my other brother, someone will visit Nestor as well.”

– Melissa Bailey

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Barbara Birchenough Photograph: Kristin Carbone

Barbara Birchenough, 65
Thoughtful and quiet nurse fell ill on eve of her retirement

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Clara Maass medical center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of death: 15 April 2020

Barbara Birchenough consistently mailed cards to her family and friends, for birthdays, holidays or just as a pleasant surprise. Her youngest son, Matthew Birchenough, said it reflected her personality: quiet, thoughtful and kind.

Birchenough began training as a nurse right after high school and worked for 46 years. She planned to retire on 4 April, with a big party to follow.

On 24 March, she came home from work and told Matthew that four floors of the hospital had been taken over with Covid-19 patients.

The next day, she began to cough. In text messages with her oldest daughter, she conveyed that protective gear was lacking at the hospital. “The ICU nurses were making gowns out of garbage bags,” Barbara texted. “Dad is going to pick up large garbage bags for me just in case.”

The next time Birchenough went to the hospital, it was as a patient. Her eldest daughter, Kristin Carbone, said she tested positive for Covid-19 shortly before she died.

A Clara Maass spokesperson said the hospital has been compliant with state and CDC guidelines for protective gear.

– CJ

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Christopher Dean and wife, Natalya Photograph: Family of Christopher Dean

Christopher Dean, 37
From ICU bed, he planned to help fight Covid-19 after recovery

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Northport VA Medical Center’s Valley Stream clinic in Valley Stream, New York
Date of death: 15 April 2020

When Christopher Dean went to the emergency room, he was “absolutely positive” he would only be hospitalized for a few days.

“He was always optimistic, full of life,” said Natalya Kubaevskaya, his wife. “And he had a big heart.”

When tests came back positive for Covid-19, he planned help fight the disease by donating blood and plasma as soon as he recovered.

Dean had mild asthma, his wife said, but was otherwise healthy. He loved snowboarding, swimming and racquetball.

Christopher’s father, Alvin, wrote on a GoFundMe page that he contracted the coronavirus at work. A representative of Northport, wrote that the clinic provided “PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

Kubaevskaya, who recently finished treatment for breast cancer, said Dean pushed her to keep going. She said their daughter, Donna, 15, struggles with her adoptive father’s death. “There are moments,” Kubaevskaya said, “when she tries to convince herself that he’s still in the hospital and will come home soon.”

– Katja Ridderbusch

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Gerald Welch Photograph: Donna Welch

Gerald Welch, 56
Social worker was a ‘big voice’ in his community

Occupation: Social worker and behavioral specialist
Place of work: Opportunity Behavioral Health in Reading, Pennsylvania
Date of death: 15 April 2020

Donna Welch had sworn she would “never, ever, ever get married again”. Then Gerald appeared.

They met on MySpace, and she quickly realized that “our spirits connected”. On their first date, at Donna’s house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Gerald proposed – and Donna said yes. “It was like he came down on a bolt of lightning from heaven,” she said.

Gerald’s fiery passion and courage to speak out served him well as a boardroom advocate for underperforming students in the school district, and at the St Paul Missionary Baptist church, where he resurrected a scholarship now named in his honor.

“He had a big voice,” Donna said, “and he was not afraid to use it.” His Families, Organizations and Communities United in Service podcast combined Gerald’s lived experience overcoming drugs and his spirituality to support others struggling with addiction.

So even as the state’s Covid-19 cases mounted, Gerald was a dutiful companion for his clients with severe autism – he took them to the supermarket in Lancaster and the laundromat in Lebanon. “Wherever they needed to go, he went,” Donna said. “He cared so much for them, and they loved him dearly.”

“We all did,” she added.

– Eli Cahan

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Michael Marceaux Photograph: Drake Marceaux

Michael Marceaux, 49
Air force veteran who went ‘above and beyond for patients’

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Christus Highland medical center and Brentwood hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of death: 16 April 2020

After Michael Marceaux retired from the air force, he went back to school. In 2018 he launched a new career as an emergency room nurse.

“Everyone who worked with him said he was so happy,” said Drake Marceaux, one of his four sons. “He was willing to go above and beyond for patients.”

As coronavirus spread throughout Louisiana, Michael developed a cough and fever. Soon after he tested positive for Covid-19.

“He didn’t seem too worried,” Drake said. “He just wanted to make sure not to give it to other people.”

A spokesperson for Christus Health said Marceaux would be missed for his “positive attitude, even after a hard shift. His laughter brought joy to others.” The spokesperson declined to answer questions about workplace safety conditions.

Drake said he wanted his father to be remembered for how much he was loved.

His funeral was live-streamed on Facebook. “At one point, there were 2,000 viewers watching his service,” Drake said. “As much as he didn’t want attention, it gravitated toward him.”

– Victoria Knight

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Robert Zerman Photograph: The Zerman family

Robert Zerman, 49
Quick-witted firefighter ‘always had your back’

Occupation: Volunteer firefighter
Place of work: Pioneer Hose Company No 1 in Robesonia, Pennsylvania
Date of death: 16 April 2020

Anyone who met Robert Zerman would see two things: He was devoted to firefighting and emergency medical services, and he had a quick sense of humor.

“He probably went on tens of thousands of calls,” said Anthony Tucci, CEO of the Western Berks Ambulance Association. Tucci, who knew Zerman for over three decades, added, “he always had your back, always knew his stuff.”

Most recently, Zerman was a volunteer assistant fire chief. He responded to an emergency in March in which the patient had Covid-19 symptoms.

“That was before there was really any guidance to wear PPE,” Tucci said.

Soon Zerman became sick, leading the family to suspect that he had contracted the coronavirus on that call, Tucci said. Zerman tested positive and was hospitalized. He seemed to be improving before taking a bad turn.

Representatives from two dozen first responder agencies lined the streets for Zerman’s funeral procession.

– Maureen O’Hagan

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Joshua Bush Photograph: LaKita Bush

Joshua Bush, 30
A nursing student, he and his wife shared a love for travel

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Benton House of Aiken in Aiken, South Carolina
Date of Death: 17 April 2020

Joshua Bush never let his wife, LaKita, forget that she was five hours late for their first date.

“He never held back telling the truth,” LaKita said.

They met online in 2011, each attracted to the other’s lust for travel. For Joshua’s 30th birthday, they took a cruise to Bermuda. He yearned to go farther afield to Tokyo to revel over anime.

Joshua began his nursing career after high school, eventually ending up at Benton House of Aiken, an assisted living facility. Joshua and LaKita, who works in human resources for a hospital, both fell ill in late March, but initially thought they were experiencing allergies. Benton House had no confirmed Covid-19 cases at the time, LaKita said. Even still, the staff was taking precautions.

A doctor prescribed Joshua flu medication, but his symptoms – fever and aches but no cough – worsened, and he was admitted to a hospital in Augusta, Georgia, on 4 April.

“That was the last time I saw him alive,” LaKita said.

Over the next few days, both tested positive for the coronavirus. Joshua was sedated in the hospital for two weeks and died on 17 April. LaKita recovered at home.

Joshua was earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. May would have marked the couple’s fifth anniversary.

– Sarah Varney

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John Careccia Photograph: Toni Lorenc

John Careccia, 74
A spry EMT, he made ‘the ultimate sacrifice’

Occupation: Emergency medical technician and rescue squad chief
Place of work: Woodbridge Township ambulance and rescue squad in Iselin, New Jersey
Date of death: 17 April 2020

“That’s not the way you throw a curveball!” John Careccia famously told his grandson at a family picnic, according to his daughter, Toni Lorenc. Careccia then threw the ball so wide that it broke a window in her shed.

“That’s how you throw the batter off,” he said, brushing off the mishap.

“Typical Pop-Pop,” Lorenc said. “He had so much confidence in himself.”

Careccia, who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for 30 years, brought this confidence with him into a second career. In 1993, after two medics saved his son’s life, he became a volunteer EMT. An enthusiastic educator, he taught CPR, mentored young EMTs, and gave catechism classes at his church, Lorenc said.

A spry 74, Careccia responded to 911 calls as chief of his rescue squad. On 25 March, he evaluated a patient who had Covid-19, said Ed Barrett, squad president. Careccia died of Covid-19 several weeks later.

At his firehouse memorial service, Careccia was summoned over a loudspeaker for his “last call”.

“Having heard no response from Chief Careccia, we know that John has made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Steve Packer, a former squad president. “His leadership, dedication, compassion and friendship will be greatly missed.”

– Melissa Bailey

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Maurice Dotson Photograph: Felicia Dodson-Hill

Maurice Dotson, 51
His Facebook page portended tragedy

Occupation: Certified nursing assistant
Place of work: West Oaks nursing and rehabilitation center in Austin, Texas
Date of death: 17 April 2020

Maurice Dotson’s sister knew something was wrong when her older brother didn’t post his daily Facebook update.

“We knew he was good as long as he posted every morning,” Felicia Dodson-Hill said. Dodson-Hill, who lives in Arkansas, said her brother kept in touch with his family via Facebook. He often posted affirmations, memes and inspiring quotes.

Dotson, 51, a veteran certified nursing assistant, had begun caring for patients with Covid-19. (According to his employer, “safety protocols to protect against Covid-19 at West Oaks have been in place since early March”.)

On 1 April, his family in Arkansas couldn’t reach him. Two days later, he went to the hospital, where he was tested but sent home, he told Dodson-Hill. Her mother reached him a few days later. He barely had the energy to speak, Dodson-Hill said.

Dotson’s cousin, Dawunna Wilson, said that Dotson called an ambulance on 8 April. The next day he was diagnosed with Covid-19. “From there, it was pretty much downhill,” she said.

– Sharon Jayson

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Celia Lardizabal Marcos Photograph: Donald Jay Marcos

Celia Lardizabal Marcos, 61
Deeply generous, she never forgot her hometown

Occupation: Telemetry charge nurse
Place of Work: CHA Hollywood Presbyterian medical center in Los Angeles, California
Date of Death: 17 April 2020

Whenever she traveled to her hometown of Tagudin in the Philippines, Celia Lardizabal Marcos showered family with gifts and delighted in planning weekend outings for everyone, said her eldest son, Donald.

And when she returned home to California, she brought presents for her sons. “She always thought of how her family could be happy,” he said.

Trained as a nurse in her home country, Marcos emigrated to the United States in 2001 and settled in Los Angeles. Three years later, she became a telemetry charge nurse, a specialist who tracks patients’ vital signs using hi-tech equipment.

On 3 April, she was one of three nurses who responded after a suspected coronavirus patient went into cardiac arrest. Wearing a surgical mask, she intubated the patient. Three days later, she had a headache, body aches and difficulty breathing.

Her symptoms worsened, and she was admitted on 15 April to the hospital where she had worked for 16 years. Two days later, she went into cardiac arrest and died.

Her sons say they plan to honor her wishes to be cremated and buried in Tagudin, alongside her parents.

– Christina M Oriel, Asian Journal

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Matthew Moore Photograph: Erin Esposito

Matthew ‘Matty’ Moore, 52
‘Sitting on the sidelines was never in his DNA’

Occupation: Radiologic technologist
Place of work: Northwell Health’s GoHealth Urgent Care in Eltingville, Staten Island, New York
Date of death: 17 April 2020

Matthew Moore “would give the shirt off his back to help others”, said his sister, Erin Esposito.

A former firefighter and Staten Island native, Matthew Moore volunteered as a first responder for weeks after 9/11, “even when everyone else stopped going”, Esposito said.

Moore was known as “a gentle giant” in Prince’s Bay, his brother-in-law Adam Esposito said. He was a devoted churchgoer and a beloved member of “The Beach Boys” firehouse (as Engine 161/81 was nicknamed).

He even came through as Santa Claus, delivering gifts on Christmas morning to the children of two firefighters who died on 9/11.

Moore became an X-ray technologist, cherishing the ability to help those seeking urgent care. When Covid-19 emerged, he continued showing up to work. “Sitting on the sidelines was never in his DNA,” Esposito said.

At the time, the family was reassured that he was receiving the personal protective equipment he needed. Despite his precautions, when Matty contracted Covid-19, it tore through his lungs, which had been damaged at Ground Zero.

As Matty lay dying, Esposito sought to reassure her brother. “You’ve done enough for us,” she told him, over the phone. Moments later , Matty’s heart stopped beating.

– Eli Cahan

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Rosemary Sell Photograph: The Sell family

Rosemary Sell, 80
She jumped at the chance to lend her nursing skills to her beloved New York

Occupation: Pediatric nurse practitioner
Place of work: New York City public schools
Date of death: 17 April 2020

Rosemary Sell was a New Yorker through and through. Born in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, she went to nursing school in Greenwich Village and raised her five boys on the Lower East Side.

In the 1960s, she traveled to Berlin, where she worked as a nurse for the British army and met her future husband, Peter. A lifelong love of travel was born. Gregarious and high-energy by nature, she loved meeting new people. “Wherever she’d go, she’d make a new friend,” said her son, also named Peter.

In later years, Sell spent much of her time in Florida. But she jumped at opportunities to lend her nursing skills to her home city and see her grandchildren and friends.

In February, she was contacted by a firm that places nurses on temporary assignments. Her children were concerned about the encroaching pandemic, especially given her age. “But they need a nurse,” she responded. She traveled to New York to fill in as a nurse at several schools citywide just as the pandemic took hold. The firm, Comprehensive Resources, did not respond to questions on protections for its contractors.

Sell began developing symptoms in mid-March, just before the citywide school closure went into effect. She returned home to Florida, where she died from pneumonia caused by Covid-19.

Before Rosemary died, she had been hatching her next adventure with a friend: to travel to India. She wanted to see the Taj Mahal.

Noa Yachot

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Michael Guiliano Photograph: The Giuliano family

Michael Giuliano, 64
An old-fashioned family doctor who still made house calls

Occupation: Family practice physician
Place of work: Mountainside medical group in Nutley, New Jersey
Date of death: 18 April 2020

For 39 years, Michael Giuliano practiced old-fashioned family medicine.

He made house calls. He visited his patients in the hospital rather than asking another physician to check in on them. He saw generations of the same family.

“Some patients would show up here at the house,’” said Giuliano’s wife, Marylu, a nurse and the office manager of his solo practice. “Patients would call and he’d say: ‘Come on over, I’ll check you out.’”

A father of five and grandfather of four, Giuliano was jovial, with a quirky sense of humor and love of Peanuts characters, especially Charlie Brown. He liked to tell patients, “I’ll fix you up.”

“He treated all of his patients like family,” said Nutley’s mayor, Joseph Scarpelli.

When Covid-19 hit the US, Giuliano ordered N95 masks, his family said, but suppliers were out and sent surgical masks instead. Giuliano wore two at a time.

The week of 16 March, Giuliano saw four patients with respiratory symptoms who later tested positive for Covid-19. About two weeks later, he tested positive.

Giuliano continued to see patients via telemedicine until he was hospitalized. He died 11 days later.

– MC

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Barry Webber Photograph: Harriet Clark Webber

Barry Webber, 67
A surgeon with varied interests, intrigued by how things worked

Occupation: General surgeon
Place of work: Mount Sinai Queens, New York
Date of death: 18 April 2020

Barry Webber wanted to understand how things worked. That curiosity and drive motivated him to reconstruct an old Jeep, build a computer, take up rock climbing, and, of course, become a surgeon.

He pursued medicine when he realized he wasn’t going to become a concert pianist, Harriet Clark Webber, his wife, said.

The two met when Harriet was a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and Barry moonlit as a supernumerary – a non-dancing extra on stage – for the company. “He just wanted to be around the theater,” she said.

Barry honed his surgery skills in a Brooklyn emergency room in the 1980s. “It was a rough time to be in an ER in Brooklyn,” Harriet said. “He was treating a lot of gunshot wounds and trauma.”

They married in 1996 and had two sons, now 22 and 20.

Like so many Americans, when Covid struck, the couple watched Contagion, a 2011 film about a pandemic. Barry said he had a bad feeling about it.

On 27 March, his fears were realized. He texted his wife: “I’m sick.”

Harriet believes he contracted the virus at work before the hospital ordered the universal use of protective gear.

– Danielle Renwick

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Sheila Christian Photograph: Courtney Christian

Sheila Faye Christian, 66
Nurse’s death ripples through an extended community

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Care Pavilion nursing and rehabilitation center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Date of death: 19 April 2020

So many people are mourning the death of Sheila Christian, her daughter set up a website to comfort them all.

Christian was a longtime friend of Tina Knowles-Lawson – the mother of Beyoncé – who posted about her death on Instagram.

But Christian was also a superstar at the center where she worked for 26 years and among those who knew her. She was the kind of person who brought lunch to a new co-worker and hosted a baby shower for someone without close family, according to her daughter and a memorial board.

At the outset of the Covid-19 crisis, Christian was not given personal protective equipment, her daughter, Courtney Christian, said. She said her mother only received a mask in late March. A lawyer for the rehab center acknowledged Christian’s death and said that the center had followed federal guidelines, but didn’t respond to specific questions.

Christian was diagnosed on 2 April. She endured more than a week of fever, chills and coughing, but seemed to be on the mend. She had been cleared to return to work when she collapsed at home. An outpouring of grief followed, her daughter said.

“She just helped and cared for so many people,” she said. “People I had never met.”

– JoNel Aleccia

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Karla Dominguez Photograph: Carlos Dominguez

Karla Dominguez, 33
Pediatric nurse wore Minions scrubs and connected with children

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Providence Children’s hospital in El Paso, Texas
Date of death: 19 April 2020

As a child, Karla Dominguez dreamed of becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon. One Christmas, she received a doctor’s bag. “Every time I came home, she’d say, ‘Let me listen to your heart; let me see how you’re doing,’” recalled her father, Carlos Dominguez.

Hurdles getting into medical school dampened her spirits. Then she pursued nursing, a field in which she blossomed.

“She was so full of joy, so happy with her work,” said Dominguez, a doctor. She wore scrubs with cartoon Minions and managed to connect with even the most challenging patients, her father said. A few years into her nursing career, she considered reapplying to medical school, but ultimately decided to stick with nursing because it allowed for more interaction with patients.

In early April, she began experiencing excruciating headaches – symptoms that have since been associated with Covid-19. She visited urgent care and the emergency room and was twice denied a coronavirus test. She was eventually hospitalized. Tests revealed she had the virus and CT scans showed brain hemorrhaging.

Dominguez doesn’t know how his daughter contracted the virus but suspects she may have contracted it at work. Providence did not respond to a request for comment.

– Maureen O’Hagan

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Helen Gbodi Photograph: Rebecca Gbodi

Helen Gbodi, 54
The single mother dreamed of opening a nursing home

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: MedStar Washington hospital center in Washington DC
Date of death: 19 April 2020

Helen Gbodi was known for helping elderly neighbors and fellow churchgoers, picking up their medications and groceries and accompanying them on walks. She even dispatched her daughter, Rebecca Gbodi, to shovel snow in neighbors’ driveways.

“Even when she didn’t have a lot, she would always give,” Rebecca said of her mother, who worked long hours to put her three children through college and helped pay school fees for other relatives. This year, she embarked on her own dream: she was crafting plans to open her own nursing home, her daughter said.

Gbodi understood the severity of Covid-19 early. In March she called everyone in her contacts list, including people she hadn’t talked to in years, to make sure they were aware and taking precautions, her daughter said. Though she did not actively care for patients who had been diagnosed with Covid-19, such patients were being treated on her floor, her daughter said.

Days later, she was fighting for her life. By the time she was hospitalized with Covid-19, she was too weak to lift her arm for a virtual handshake with her daughter on FaceTime.

“At the end of the day she was willing to put her life in danger for others,” Rebecca said.

– Anna Jean Kaiser

Photograph:
David Joel Perea Photograph: The Perea Family

David Joel Perea, 35
Traveling nurse ‘wanted to be somebody’

Occupation: Traveling registered nurse
Place of work: Lakeside Health & Wellness Suites in Reno, Nevada, via MAS Medical Staffing
Date of death: 19 April 2020

David Joel Perea would call in from Maine, Vermont, Minnesota and, ultimately, Nevada, with the same request: “Mom, can you send tamales?” Dominga Perea would ship them overnight. This is how she always knew where her son was.

A traveling nurse who routinely pulled 80-hour weeks, David “had a tremendous work ethic”, said his brother, Daniel Perea. A young David, returning from his father’s mechanic shop, said, “I don’t want to spend life sweating under a car,” Dominga recalled. “I want to be somebody.”

Dominga was proud of him, “for doing God’s work.”

When “mijito” didn’t respond to her text on 6 April, Dominga knew something was wrong. “I could always tell how David was. If he said ‘Hi, Mama,’ he was happy. If he said ‘I’m fine, Mom,’ he was tired,” she said.

This time he said neither. “Don’t panic, Mama,” David wrote. “Just pray for me. I have the Covid.”

David FaceTimed with his mother on Easter Sunday from a hospital bed in Reno. “He was starving, but he struggled even eating mashed potatoes,” Dominga said, “because he couldn’t breathe.” The next morning, he was placed on a ventilator and never woke up.

His workplace did not respond to requests for comment.

– Eli Cahan

Photograph:
Felicia Ailende Photograph: Family of Felicia Ailende

Felicia Ailende, 67
As nurse and minister, she tended to her patients, flocks – and garden


Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Bria of Forest Edge in Chicago, Illinois
Date of death: 20 April 2020

Felicia Ailende was a beacon of unity to her family and members of Maranatha chapel in Evergreen Park, Illinois, where she was a minister. She counseled many, helping keep marriages intact and lives on track, her son Elijah Ailende said. Though her six children were very different from one another, she saw the best in each.

An immigrant from Nigeria, she planted a garden each year and used the produce to cook West African dishes. When there were too many cucumbers, hot peppers or greens, she shared with neighbors.

At Bria of Forest Edge, a nursing home, Felicia cooked for residents at times or prayed for them, Elijah said.

Administrator Julie Kosman said in a statement that Ailende was a hardworking nurse who was pleasant and funny and had a great rapport with residents.

She is one of three workers at the facility who have died of Covid-19.

Elijah said staffers had to reuse surgical masks provided by the facility. Administrators did not tell them when residents and other staff members got the virus “so they could take precautions and safeguard their lives,” he said.

Kosman’s statement says “full PPE” – personal protective equipment – was available to staffers and there is no reason to believe Ailende was exposed to Covid-19 “within our facility”. She “had no known contact with any resident or staff member who showed symptoms or had tested positive for Covid-19”.

– Christina Jewett

Photograph:
Brittany Bruner-Ringo Photograph: Kym Bruner

Brittany Bruner-Ringo, 32
‘It could be the saddest day, and she could make you laugh’

Occupation: Licensed vocational nurse
Place of work: Silverado Beverly Place in Los Angeles, California
Date of death: 20 April 2020

When it was Brittany Bruner-Ringo’s turn to choose the family vacation, it was always New Orleans, a city so full of life.

That is how family members described the young nurse who left the Oklahoma plains for the excitement of southern California.

“She always made the best of things,” her mother, Kim Bruner, said. “It could be the saddest day, and she could make you laugh.”

Bruner-Ringo worked at a dementia care center. On 19 March, she admitted a patient flown in from New York. She suspected he might have Covid-19, and she was nervous. She hadn’t been allowed to wear a mask or gloves, for fear of frightening the patients, she told her mom by phone that night. (A spokesperson from her employer said, “We have no issues in our environment using appropriate masking and gloves and have followed CDC guidelines throughout this pandemic. We have always had adequate PPE to protect our residents and associates.”)

The following day, Bruner-Ringo’s patient grew worse, and the nurse checked into a hotel to isolate from her roommate. She later tested positive for Covid-19, but when she developed symptoms she remained optimistic. “She would say: ‘I’m fine. I’m going to beat this. Don’t worry about me,’” Bruner said.

After getting off the phone with her daughter, Bruner, a veteran nurse herself, called the hotel front desk to ask for help getting an ambulance. Bruner-Ringo, who insisted she was fine, was struggling to breathe.

– Samantha Young, California Healthline

Photograph:
Celia Yap-Banago Photograph: Josh Banago

Celia Yap-Banago, 69
5-ft-tall ‘fireball’ was a prankster to her sons

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Research medical center in Kansas City, Missouri
Death of death: 21 April 2020

Celia Yap-Banago was a 5-ft-tall “fireball”, said one co-worker. She had moved to the US from the Philippines in 1970 and worked for nearly 40 years for the HCA Midwest Health system. Her family said she was planning for retirement.

Her son Josh said she showed her love through practical jokes. “You knew she loved you if she was yelling at you or if she was pranking you,” he said.

“She was very outspoken,” said Charlene Carter, a fellow nurse. “But I later learned that’s a really good quality to have, as a nurse, so you can advocate for your patients and advocate for yourself.”

In March, Yap-Banago treated a patient who later tested positive for Covid-19. Carter said Yap-Banago was not given personal protective equipment because she was not working in an area designed for coronavirus patients. She spent her final days in isolation to protect others.

A spokesperson for HCA Midwest Health said that medical staff received adequate personal protective equipment in line with CDC guidelines.

Josh said she spoke with reverence of her patients and their families. “She was always focused on the family as a whole, and that the family was taken care of, not just the patient in the bed,” he said.

– Alex Smith, KCUR

Photograph:
Gianmarco Bertolotti Photograph: Monique Bertolotti

Gianmarco Bertolotti, 42
‘He explored life without restrictions’

Occupation: Mason
Place of work: Lenox Hill hospital in New York City
Date of death: 22 April 2020

Decades ago, two girls asked Gianmarco Bertolotti to the senior prom. Even as a teenager, he was “such a sweet soul”, said Monique, his sister. Instead of rejecting either one, he skipped prom.

As a child visiting grandparents in Rapallo, Italy, Gianmarco would invariably return from town with “focaccia, espresso and stories of the friends he’d made”. As an adult, he had “a special way about him”, Monique said, “forg[ing] a lasting bond with everyone he met”.

An avid traveler, he’d visited New Orleans and Japan in recent years. “He explored life without restrictions,” Monique said.

A mason, Gianmarco took the subway from his home in Queens every morning to help repair the hospital’s ceilings, floors, soap dispensers and sharps collectors. But on 13 April, he called his sister because he was coughing up blood after carrying a case of seltzer up three flights of stairs.

The next morning, he went to the emergency room. A week later, he was dead.

“Protecting our employees … has been our priority from day one,” the hospital said in a statement.

– Eli Cahan

Photograph:
David Martin Photograph: AMR Southwest Mississippi

David Martin, 52
A family man who loved Disney, he took risks to help others

Occupation: Paramedic
Place of work: AMR Southwest Mississippi, covering Amite and Wilkinson counties
Date of death: 22 April 2020

On 22 March, David Martin changed his Facebook profile picture. Around his smiling face, the frame read, “I can’t stay home … I’m a healthcare worker.”

Outside of work, he was a dedicated family man with two children, known for his love of Disney.

Martin, who covered 1,420 square miles across two rural counties, had cared for people with suspected Covid-19 in the weeks leading up to his death, said Tim Houghton, chief of operations for AMR Southwest Mississippi.

“We do what we do knowing the risks,” Houghton said. But he said Martin’s death was “a hard hit”.

On 23 March, at the end of a shift, Martin told a supervisor he had mild flu symptoms. A month later, he died at a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

AMR paramedics had N95 masks and protective gear and followed CDC guidelines, Houghton said. “We have not yet had a shortage.”

In Facebook posts honoring Martin, colleagues described his excitement before trips to Disney World. In his memory, his fiancee, Jeanne Boudreaux, shared a photo of the two of them on a hot air balloon ride at Disney Springs.

– Michaela Gibson Morris

Photograph:
Romeo Agtarap Photograph: Maria Joy Agtarap

Romeo Agtarap, 63
‘Working there was the proudest accomplishment of his life

Occupation: Emergency room nurse
Place of work: New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University medical center in New York City
Date of death: 24 April 2020

Joy and Romeo Agtarap met in Queens in the 1980s, when they were both young nurses, newly arrived from the Philippines. Joy Agtarap said her husband was a jokester who had a vibrant personality that often made him the life of the party. At gatherings, he liked to get people on to the dance floor.

“He’s a very good dancer – sometimes he made the line dances too hard and people would get lost!” she remembered.

He was also a dedicated emergency room nurse. Agtarap had spent 20 years at what his wife said was his “dream job” at the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University medical center.

“Working there was the proudest accomplishment of his life,” she said. He was still seeing patients when the pandemic hit. (The hospital did not respond to requests to comment on whether he had adequate personal protective equipment.)

Romeo was diagnosed with Covid-19 in late March. Joy, who had left nursing due to an injury, became sick a week later. They were both hospitalized – he at New York-Presbyterian and she at a facility on Long Island. As Joy recovered, she anxiously awaited updates on her husband’s condition.

“It was the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to me. I was going crazy in there waiting for calls about him,” she said. He died on 24 April. “I believe he took the worst of the virus for me, that’s why I’m still here,” she said.

– Anna Jean Kaiser

Photograph:
Nina Forbes Photograph: Jessica Forbes

Nina Forbes, 56
Memory care nurse worked through the pandemic, despite fears

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Silverado memory care facility in Alexandria, Virginia
Date of death: 25 April 2020

Nina Forbes refused to let fear stop her from living her life.

She was terrified of flying. But a few years ago, Forbes got on a plane for the first time to watch her younger daughter Jennifer play volleyball.

Covid-19 also scared Forbes, and as a nurse at an assisted living facility, she knew the virus posed a serious risk. Still, she continued showing up to work.

Forbes tested Covid-positive just after Easter. Chills, body aches and a fever kept her from attending family dinner that Sunday. By the following weekend, she struggled to breathe and couldn’t walk on her own. An ambulance took her to the hospital.

Her older daughter, Jessica, said her mother didn’t have the necessary protection at work. Forbes sometimes wore trash bags to protect herself, she said.

In a statement, a representative for the facility said it met CDC guidelines for personal protective equipment. Employees sometimes used trash bags as an added layer of protection, worn over a disposable gown, according to the representative.

Forbes appeared to do what she wanted even in her final moments. Jennifer was able to visit her mother in the hospital, and Forbes died shortly after she left, Jessica said. “It was like she waited for her to leave.”

– Carmen Heredia Rodriguez

Photograph:
Nancy MacDonald Photograph: Bethany MacDonald

Nancy MacDonald, 74
She came back from retirement and contracted Covid-19

Occupation: Receptionist
Place of work: Orchard View Manor, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in East Providence, Rhode Island
Date of death: 25 April 2020

Nancy MacDonald tried retiring, but she couldn’t make it stick.

For 20 years, she was a middle school teaching assistant and cheerleading coach. At home, she loved painting rocks and watching shows like Blue Bloods and American Idol. She was married and had two adult children.

A lifelong Rhode Islander, Nancy was a people person, her daughter, Bethany MacDonald, said. “She always wanted to help others.”

So in 2017, she went back to work, this time at a nursing home.

As Orchard View’s Covid-19 case count grew, MacDonald worried. Still, she kept coming in – washing and reusing her N95 respirator and having her temperature taken daily.

A spokesperson for Orchard View said the facility had “extensive infection control”, satisfying government guidelines. He would not say how often employees received new N95 respirators.

On 13 April, MacDonald began coughing. By 16 April, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Covid-19. She died 10 days later – almost a week after she had last spoken with her daughter.

“I said, ‘Mama, we love you,’” Bethany said. “The last words she said to me were, ‘I love you, too.’”

– Shefali Luthra

Photograph:
John Robert Oglesbee Photograph: Adam Oglesbee

John Robert Oglesbee, 80
A doctor and a poet, he ‘wasn’t done’

Occupation: Family physician
Place of work: CCOM Medical Group cardiology clinic in Muskogee, Oklahoma
Date of death: 26 April 2020

John Oglesbee accepted payment in the form of a bushel of corn or meat from the family farm. No matter, he always put his patients first.

“He loved small-town Oklahoma,” said grandson Adam Oglesbee.

For decades, Oglesbee ran a private practice outside of Ada, in south-central Oklahoma. In recent years, he practiced at a cardiology clinic in his hometown.

An avid reader on every subject, he always returned to the Bible. He was a churchgoer and deacon for many years, often guest-preaching. He also wrote poems, sometimes on napkins or the back of an envelope; he stuffed them in books in his vast home library.

He saw patients until he became sick with Covid-19. On 19 March, he went into home isolation. He tested positive days later. His employer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“He told me when I last saw him at his home through the window, ‘Dammit, I wasn’t done,’” Adam said.

– Eriech Tapia, University of Oklahoma

Neftali ‘Neff’ Rios, 37
‘Gentle soul’ had a brilliant mind and big heart

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: St Francis Hospital’s intensive care unit in Memphis, Tennessee
Date of death: 26 April 2020

Hospital colleagues loved working with Neftali “Neff” Rios. He was humble, kind and capable, a “gentle soul” who always strived to learn something new. Not just smart – “I’m talking extremely intelligent,” his brother Josue Rios said. And he loved people.

Neff worked at a small hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, then earned his master’s in business administration with an emphasis on healthcare, and moved to St Francis. He hoped to enter management.

In mid-April, he came down with fever, body aches, a terrible cough and tested positive for the virus. Several family members got sick, too. His parents were both hospitalized.

On 26 April, Neff collapsed at home, unable to catch his breath. His wife, Kristina, called 911, started CPR and waited for the EMTs. When they arrived, he had already died.

The family believes he was exposed at work. A spokesperson for the hospital declined to comment, citing family privacy.

“Neff was never scared” of catching the virus at work, Josue said. “You take an oath to take care of people, no matter what.”

– Maureen O’Hagan

Photograph:
Juan A. Martinez Photograph: Photograph: Family of Juan Martinez

Juan Martinez, 60
Charismatic surgical technician died days before he was set to retire

Age: 60
Occupation: Surgical technician
Place of Work: University of Illinois hospital in Chicago, Illinois
Date of Death: 27 April 2020

It was easy to befriend Juan Martinez.

The surgical technician “could start a conversation up with anyone about anything,” said Jose Moreno, an operating room nurse and co-worker.

He went out of his way to teach others what he had learned from 34 years in the field, said his son, Juan Martinez Jr. Juan Jr followed his father’s career path at the same hospital. A military veteran and former pastor, Martinez set an example “to be faithful to your job”, his son said.

Set to retire at the end of April, Martinez anticipated spending time with his grandchildren, traveling and opening Bible education centers in Mexico, his family said. On 17 April, feeling tired and feverish, he was hospitalized at the University of Chicago. He tested positive for Covid-19.

Family members said Martinez did not engage in direct patient care but came in contact with staffers who did. In a statement, a spokesperson for the hospital said that it “provided guidance to use personal protective equipment as recommended by the CDC and in some cases we have implemented recommendations that go beyond the CDC guidelines”.

Juan Jr said that losing his dad has been a nightmare and that he and his two siblings are “leaning on the Lord and praying a lot, just like how our father taught us.”

– Mary Chris Jaklevic

Photograph:
Tina Reeves. Photograph: Tiana Mohabir, daughter

Tina Reeves, 58
‘She always listened and never judged’

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Pickaway correctional institution in Orient, Ohio
Date of death: 27 April 2020

When Tina Reeves visited her grandchildren, music would blast from the car. Wale’s On Chill rang out: “Trying to hear all your problems, so I can lighten the load.” 

“She loved her music,” said daughter Tiana Mohabir, “even though she had no rhythm for squat.”

Reeves had an ear for other people’s lives, though. Younger co-workers called her “Mother Advice”, Mohabir said. In interactions with prisoners and officers alike “she always listened”, Mohabir said, “and never judged”.

She called her three daughters daily, “checking in on all of us”, Mohabir added.

When Reeves started coughing in early April, Pickaway had already reported more than 1,500 cases of Covid-19.

“PPE [personal protective equipment] was, and continues to be, available to staff,” a prison spokesperson said. The family said their mother did not have access to adequate PPE.

Reeves was hospitalized with Covid-19 on 13 April. She called her daughter to ask her to take care of paying her utility, insurance and cable bills. “I didn’t think twice,” Mohabir said, “because I didn’t want them shut off when she got home.”

Within 24 hours, Reeves was intubated. 

– Eli Cahan

Photograph:
Cassondra Diaz. Photograph: Sean Diaz

Cassondra Grant Diaz, 31
A loving bookkeeper who ‘had the most awesome laugh’

Occupation: Nursing home Bookkeeper 
Employer and Location: Chelsea Place care center in Hartford, Connecticut
Date of death: 29 April 2020

Cassondra Diaz was a receptionist-turned-bookkeeper at Chelsea Place care center, a nursing home in her hometown. 

“She was my therapist, my fashion consultant, my hair designer,” said her older sister, Takara Chenice. “I called her my ‘big little sister’.”

Loved ones described her as “an old soul” and very loyal to her family, which included her husband Sean Diaz.

“My six years with her were better than any lifetime I had before her,” said Sean. In their free time, the couple would put an hour or two on a phone timer and hit the highway for a long drive, often taking trips to parks, lakes and the beach. 

Her family believed she contracted the virus at work, even though she didn’t work directly with patients. A spokesperson for Chelsea Place confirmed that the nursing home had Covid-19 cases among both staff and patients, but said that staff was provided with personal protective equipment.

Despite wearing protective gear, removing her work clothes at the door and showering after work, she came down with symptoms in mid-April. On 29 April, she woke up having difficulty breathing and pain in her leg, said Sean, who called an ambulance. She died later that day. Her family believes the cause was cardiac arrest induced by a blood clot, a complication of the virus. 

Sean keeps a photo of her in the car that the couple took on adventures. “My car is literally dedicated to her,” he said. 

– Madeleine Kornfeld, City University of New York

Photograph:
Joan Swann Photograph: Glenna Swann

Joan Swann, 70
An ‘icon’, the hospital secretary ‘brightened every situation’

Occupation: Intensive care unit secretary
Place of work: Kent hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island
Date of death: 29 April 2020

When things were slow at the hospital, Joan Swann would head down to the gift shop.

If someone was having a hard day – the security guard, the patient transporter, the barista – she might buy them a candle. Or charm bracelet. Or a Vera Bradley handbag.

“She brightened every situation,” said Glenna Swann, her daughter. A former nurse, Joan coached trainees from behind the administrative desk. They called her an “icon” who was the reason many stayed on the intensive care unit.

When Joan was admitted to the hospital, those she had long cared for returned the favor. Her isolation room was adorned with blue hearts, and following her intubation, the nurses would FaceTime the family in. During quiet hours, they sat at her bedside.

The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.

After Joan died, the family found “thousands upon thousands” of unused greeting cards, sorted by occasion (weddings or Christmas) and emotion (sympathy or humor).

In the coming weeks, Joan’s cherished grandson, Adam, will complete high school. Glenna is still choosing from among Joan’s graduation cards for him.

– Eli Cahan