Kentucky family loses 3 members to Covid-19 in weeks before Christmas
Two Kentucky sisters warn families to gather together this holiday season after losing three relatives when the coronavirus pierced their family this fall.
Jessica Cheatham, 36, from Campbellsville and Jama Allen, 32, from Liberty told NBC News that they both signed Covid-19 in October and November. While they experienced fairly mild cases of the disease, their older relatives did not fare so well.
Her grandfather, Charles Herbert Tucker, signed Covid-19 in November. Shortly after testing positive, the retired farmer was hospitalized and also learned that he had stage 4 leukemia. Tucker died on November 22nd, two days after his 76th birthday and just four days before Thanksgiving.
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Charles Tucker. (Courtesy of the Cheatham family)
While their grandfather was hospitalized, the sisters' father, Mark Davis Cheatham, tested positive for the virus on November 18. The 61-year-old Kentucky Department of Transportation machine operator, who had high blood pressure, soon developed double pneumonia and was hospitalized.
Just five days after Mark Cheatham tested positive, his wife Lisa Cheatham, 58, also tested positive. She was later hospitalized with him at Norton Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.
Kentucky has reported more than 250,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 2,400 deaths, according to an NBC News tally. The state is one of 38 in the United States that mandate masks nationwide.
The sisters said they were not sure how they or their family members contracted Covid-19. Her parents feared the virus and took all possible precautions, including wearing masks and gloves, and practicing social distancing when possible. But they said many in their community are not so careful.
“We are such a small community. You see a lot of people who don't wear masks, they're not socially distant, ”said Allen.
Jessica Cheatham and Jama Allen with their mother Lisa Cheatham. (Courtesy of the Cheatham family)
Allen, who runs a retail store in Campbellsville, said customers often enter their store without a mask and get angry when she asks them to put one on.
"It really makes me angry," said Allen. "It annoys me that you are blind to this virus and what it can do to you."
Mark Cheatham, who initially only developed mild symptoms such as a sore throat and earache before his hospital stay, was soon given ventilation after extreme shortness of breath, a dangerous symptom of the virus. He died on December 11th.
"[He] was heavily sedated," said Jessica Cheatham. "He had some ventilator complications and brain damage, and we couldn't talk to him."
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Lisa Cheatham, like her husband, had only minor symptoms after contracting the virus, but it steadily worsened. She too got double pneumonia. The sisters were able to spend the last few hours with their mother before she died.
"[Mom] knew she was in her last moment and she told us she was scared and didn't want to die," said Jessica Cheatham.
Lisa Cheatham died on December 15, just four days after her husband, who was nearly 40 years old.
Mark Cheatham loved hunting, fishing and riding his motorcycle while his wife loved painting and gardening, their children said. The couple enjoyed traveling and spending time with their two grandchildren and two stepchildren. The Christmas and New Year holidays will be extremely tough for the family, the sisters said.
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"Just because you haven't gotten this virus before doesn't mean you still can't get it," said Jessica Cheatham. “My parents were safe all year round and just before Christmas got there. So people need to stop thinking that they are rid of this virus. "
The sisters urge families not to gather for the upcoming holidays to avoid spreading the virus further. Experts believe the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, hospital stays and deaths could be linked to large gatherings during Thanksgiving and could be made worse by gatherings over the next week.
"[Families] have to ask themselves," Should I give up this one vacation or give it up for a lifetime? "Said Allen.
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