Losing Your Dad to Coronavirus: One First Coast Family's Story

Apr 29, 2020

Jacksonville resident Donald Haws was just three weeks shy of his 89th birthday when he succumbed to COVID-19. His daughter Barbara, who contracted the virus while caring for him, said her dad was one of the first patients in Duval County to die of the virus.

"He started feeling a little sluggish around the 8th or 9th of March," she said during an appearance on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

"By the 12th, he was running a slight fever, but still able to take care of himself. That Friday morning I called him, and couldn't get him to answer the phone. I drove over, went into his apartment and found him in bed shivering, feverish, unable to get himself out of bed. So I called 911. That was the last time I was with him."

Haws said her dad was rushed to Mayo Clinic, where he tested positive for coronavirus. That same night, he was put on a ventilator.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

"He never came off it," she said.

Before contracting COVID19, Barbara said her father was in great health, living independently in Jacksonville, and even planning a trip to New England this summer.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Mr. Haws had been a First Coast resident since 1992, and was a member of the Deercreek Country Club for more than 25 years, along with his late wife, Lorraine.

"He was healthy. He exercised every day, ran his own errands. He read voraciously, completing the New York Times Saturday crossword every week, loved to drive his brand-new car, and was always ready for the next adventure. He played golf, and played well, until he was 87.  He was an insatiable student of the Civil War.  He loved and was very good at cards and trivia. He was adept on his computer," she reminisced.

Related: Listen to the full interview with Barbara Haws

"We had dinner every Tuesday at my house, we went out for burgers every Thursday, we met at the Deerwood Bistro for breakfast every Saturday, and he came to my house for breakfast after Mass every Sunday.  We listened to the NPR Puzzle with Will Shortz every Sunday morning."

Haws has nothing but praise for the care her father received at Mayo.

"He was their first patient at the Mayo Clinic hospital. So, because they weren't overwhelmed at that point, I was on the phone with the doctors and the nurses all day and all night. They were very conscientious, very good about calling me and keeping me up to date. But I was talking to them instead of him. And of course, I wasn't able to be next to him. So he was alone, and I'm sure he was scared. And even though I was advocating for him from a distance, there was no one to be with him, you know, no one to comfort him. It was heartbreaking."

In the midst of monitoring her dad's care, both Barbara and her son came down with the virus.

"We weren't surprised. We were there at his place. We were touching all surfaces, touching him. You know, it was not unexpected once he came back with a positive test. It developed into just a severe cold. Not even so much coughing, but a frog in your throat, nasal congestion, and then we stopped being able to taste our food and smell anything," she said.

Now, as Barbara and her son heal from the virus, they're planning Don's funeral.

"When we are able to congregate safely again, my entire family will fly in to join friends and gather to celebrate a life well lived that touched so many.  He’ll be buried at Jacksonville National Cemetery, where my mother, the love of his life and his wife of more than 61 years when she passed in December 2017, awaits his arrival."

As Florida Governor Ron DeSantis works on plans to reopen the state, Barbara Haws has concerns:

"I don't think scientists and the doctors know enough yet about the spread. Am I still contagious? Do I carry it, and for how long? How many days? Do I need to be symptom-free? All of those things, so I'm treating myself as though I still have it. I go out very seldom. If I do have to run an errand, I'm gloved up, masked up. And I think everyone else should feel the same way. Assume you've come in contact with somebody somewhere along the line.”

She said she knows people want to get back to normal but doesn’t think it should be rushed.

“I really don't. It's so, so contagious. I really think we should be patient.”

Melissa Ross can be reached at mross@wjct.org, 904-358-6382 or on Twitter at @MelissainJax.