Coronavirus killed Dan Remillard and his dad, Ron. (Photo: Remillard family)
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The doctors told the family of Dan Remillard, 43, that his time was at hand. He’d held on for six weeks, often on a ventilator, but the virus had taken a toll.
As Remillard, a working man from Woonsocket, lay unconscious at Rhode Island Hospital, those who knew and loved him gathered by Zoom to say goodbye. In a testament to how many souls Dan had touched, almost 100 were on the video call.
There was one absence: Dan’s father, Ron.
Ron, too, was gravely ill from COVID-19, at the Providence VA Medical Center.
As folks said their final words to Dan, a VA doctor phoned Ron’s wife to tell her difficult news.
Her husband, 72, had just lost his battle.
Not long after the Zoom gathering, Dan Remillard’s battle ended, too, father and son dying an hour apart, both victims of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dan got the virus first.
His wife, Liz, 41, a certified nursing assistant with the Friendly Home in Woonsocket, a skilled care facility with 126 beds, had been out with a foot injury as the pandemic began. Her first week back was in early May, working with residents who had COVID-19.
On May 4, she took a routine virus test for staffers, and two days later, although she had no symptoms, she learned she was positive.
Liz quarantined herself in their home. She soon developed moderate symptoms, including fatigue, a runny nose and no smell or taste.
Out of caution, Dan, a heavy-equipment operator with the Woonsocket Water Department, also locked down at home.
By May 9, Dan began having symptoms, too – chills with a light fever. He got tested and learned May 10 he had COVID-19.
He quarantined in a room as well.
The Remillards’ 8-year-old daughter, Avabella, was also positive but had no symptoms. Their 17-year-old son, Gavin, tested negative, and everyone worked to protect him, masking up when they left their rooms.
At first, it seemed like it would just be a version of the flu.
Then Dan’s symptoms began to get worse.
On May 14, four days after testing positive, Dan’s fever suddenly went to 104. Liz gave him Tylenol and put him in a cool bath. That seemed to work – it went down to 99.
A day later, Dan’s left hand went partly numb. The doctor, concerned about blood clots, asked that he go to the hospital.
Dan said he’d be OK.
Then his temperature spiked again and stayed high. Dan began to cough, too. As it got worse, Liz grew alarmed.
It seemed to affect his breathing. It was hard for Dan to get words out.
Liz insisted they go to the ER. It took Dan an hour to get ready. He’d put on a shoe, then lie down, exhausted.
They drove to Rhode Island Hospital’s emergency room, stopping at a tent set up outside.
Staffers saw Dan needed to be admitted. Liz had to say goodbye to him there.
She moved her mask and told him, “I love you.”
He said the same.
The virus wasn’t as bad for Liz. The aches and fatigue faded. But her tests didn’t come back negative for six weeks. That’s how long, she learned, COVID-19 can last.
Then she learned another relative had the virus – her uncle Virgilio Jordao, 79. He’d lived with a degenerative nerve disease that years before had put him in the nursing home where Liz worked. He was one of the residents she cared for.
Paired with his preexisting challenges, COVID-19 proved devastating. Jordao died in mid-May at the Friendly Home.
In normal times, Dan would have helped Liz get through that loss. It was a reminder of COVID-19’s cruelty that she couldn’t even visit her husband for solace.
Two days after Dan went into the hospital, the night nurse arranged a Zoom call with Liz and the kids. Dan looked good to her. He had on a clear oxygen mask, and she could see him mouth the words “I love you.”
They had another call the next day. This time, Dan looked tired. It was hard for him to talk.
Still, his playful spirit was intact. It came up that Liz’s background was Portuguese, prompting a nurse to say, “So you’re a good cook.”
Dan shook his head “no” to tease Liz, then gave a thumbs-up.
As they signed off, Liz was hopeful.
But on the third day, Dan could barely keep his eyes open. His breathing had gotten worse.
On the fourth, Dan was put on a ventilator.
Then his kidneys failed, and he was on dialysis.
That began a monthlong vigil as Dan held on while unconscious, the family praying for him from afar.
On June 20, the Remillard family got news about their patriarch, Ron.
Two years before, after memory issues had progressed to dementia, they made the hard decision to move Ron into a nursing home. He was in the Morgan Health Center in Johnston, which gave the round-the-clock care that had been difficult for the Remillards to provide.
But they visited often. Ron’s wife, Dianne, brought him home every weekend, the family gathering around him.
Morgan Health routinely tested residents after the pandemic began, and Ron was negative for months. But on June 20, Dianne was told he had come up positive, though he was asymptomatic.
Dianne Remillard saw how capricious COVID-19 could be. Her son Dan, strong and 43, was in grave condition while her husband, 72 and with many challenges, had no symptoms.
That would soon change.
Ron and Dianne Remillard married in June 1971. (Photo: David DelPoio)
By mid-June, Dan seemed to be turning a corner.
Around June 18, doctors said there was hope of weaning him off the ventilator and dialysis.
But there was caution, too. COVID-19 had taken a toll on his body and lungs, and patients could suddenly decline.
On June 21, Father’s Day, Dan was taken for a CT scan. It was an arduous process; all his machines had to be moved with him.
Dan suddenly crashed. His breathing blocked up, and his heart stopped.
A team began CPR, and at 12 minutes, Dan’s heart restarted.
A nurse told Liz things were so uncertain she should come to the hospital immediately. She brought their kids.
It was the first time she’d been next to Dan in weeks. He’d lost a lot of weight.
After a half-hour, the kids stepped out, and it was just Liz and Dan in the room. She held his hand, saying, “I’m here with you.”
He was full of tubes and IVs, the machines beeping and hissing.
She had gotten to know the Rhode Island Hospital nurses well enough to see they had come to love Dan, too. They talked about his infectious smile and devoted family. They hoped to see his triumphant recovery. Now, they told Liz that if this was the end, Dan would never be forgotten.
Liz, heartbroken, prayed for Dan to rally, but she trusted the Lord has a plan for everything.
The next day, a nurse called Dianne Remillard from the VA about Ron.
He was no longer asymptomatic. Ron had developed breathing problems. His oxygen was declining, so he was taken to the Providence Veterans’ Administration Medical Center.
Things looked grave.
The Remillards’ father and son held through the night. And the next days.
Dianne said it was as if Ron sensed his son’s situation. She’s convinced her husband would not leave until Dan was ready to come with him.
Days later, Dan’s doctor called Liz.
It was clear, the doctor said, that Dan’s heart had stopped for so long that his brain had little activity and would not recover.
Dan was being kept alive by machines. The doctor and Liz talked about how there comes a time when a life is unnaturally prolonged.
Over the next days, Liz prayed about what to do. She almost wished God was ready to take Dan, so she would not have to make the decision.
On June 28, Liz went to a service at her church, held in the parking lot. Ocean State Baptist is a close community, and many told Liz that Dan was in their hearts.
The pastor said it was time to pray. Liz prayed for guidance and suddenly felt peace.
God, she realized, was telling her it was time to let Dan go.
She shared this with her family, and though heartbroken, they agreed.
For closure, they set up a Zoom call, so those who loved Dan could say goodbye.
Dan’s sister Cindy requested that Liz be present in the hospital room. It gave Cindy comfort that her brother wouldn’t be alone.
Among Dan and Ron Remillard’s survivors are Ron’s wife, Dianne, center; their daughter Cindy Archambault and granddaughter Mya April Archambault, left; and Tammy Chevrette, Dan’s niece. (Photo: David DelPoio)
Liz arrived at Rhode Island Hospital’s fifth-floor Medical Intensive Care Unit around 2 p.m. June 28. One other visitor was allowed. Liz came with Dan’s cousin Lisha Hall.
The two masked and gloved up and went in.
“Do you feel it?” Hall said. “There is so much peace in this room.”
Liz indeed felt God’s presence, she said.
“The kids love you,” Liz told Dan. “And I love you.”
She didn’t want to say the word “goodbye,” so she told him, “We’ll see you again, in heaven.”
Liz held her husband’s hand, and with her mask on, she kissed him on the forehead.
They were amazed at how many people popped up for the Zoom call – more than 100 family members, friends and church folk.
Dianne Remillard prepared herself for the worst when her husband contracted the virus, but she couldn’t have imagined she’d also lose her son. (Photo: David DelPoio)
“My son was a social butterfly,” Dianne said.
As she looked at the Zoom screen on her couch in her Woonsocket home, she thought about Dan’s smile and blue eyes and how he loved eagles so much, he got a tattoo of one on his back.
One at a time, those on Zoom bid goodbye to Dan, saying they wished he didn’t have to go.
“My God, grown men crying,” Dianne recalled, “saying how much Danny touched their life.”
People thanked Dan for being there for them, whether plowing out a driveway or having coffee after a Bible study.
It struck Dianne that only two days before, June 26, she had marked her 49th anniversary with Ron. Two days before that, Liz and Dan marked their 14th. It was as if the two men had held on to see their milestones through.
“My heart is breaking,” Dianne said. “You’re the best son a mother could wish for.”
Dianne’s phone rang. She decided not to answer. Then, next to her, a call came in to her daughter Cindy.
It was Ron’s doctor at the VA.
“I’m sorry to say,” he told her, “but your father just passed.”
Cindy and Dianne shared the sad news on Zoom.
Cindy said to her brother, “Go with Daddy – he’s waiting for you.”
In Dan’s room, Liz thought Dan would be with both his dads – his earthly father and the heavenly one.
Liz asked if anyone had anything else to say.
The hospital room was quiet except for the sound of the machines.
The call ended, though Cindy chose to stay on, to be with her brother to the end.
Liz told the doctors she was ready to let him go.
Minutes later, they took Dan off the respirator.
Liz continued to hold his hand.
In a few minutes, he was gone.
Ron Remillard died of the virus June 28 at 2:45 p.m.
His son Dan died on the same day at 3:48 p.m.
Dianne, Cindy and Liz – all the Remillards really – are quite sure dad and son are now together.
Follow Mark Patinkin on Twitter: @markpatinkin.
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