COVID-19 has sickened thousands of Canadians from coast to coast and killed hundreds.
“While we can start to become numb to these numbers as time goes on, each one of these individuals had a life that mattered and people who loved them,” says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical health officer.
Here are the stories of some of those who have lost their lives:
CALGARY — Hiep Bui met her future husband in the unlikeliest of places — on a refugee boat while they were both fleeing the Vietnam War.
Bui, 67, was a worker at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., site of a large COVID-19 outbreak. A 23-year veteran at the plant, she was responsible for picking out beef bones from hamburger meat.
Bui’s husband, Nga Nguyen, says the couple had no children but had lots of friends and a happy life together.
“There’s so many great memories. I would embrace all of the moments that we had together, because we were just like shadows. We went everywhere together — shopping, travelling,” he says through an interpreter.
Nguyen says his wife enjoyed her job until her “journey of her last moments” came to a sad and sudden end on April 19.
“On Friday she got really sick. On Saturday I called the ambulance. Initially she thought maybe it was a flu or a cold of some sort, (but) it was announced she truly had COVID-19. That was a very, very sad moment and the next day she passed away,” he says.
“I didn’t see it was coming. It came so fast. I wasn’t allowed to be near her at that moment.”
Nguyen says he and Bui became close while fleeing Vietnam.
“We both escaped Vietnam on the same boat and we landed in the same refugee camp Then she got accepted (to Canada) first, a year before I was, and then, of course, we kept communicating and we met here again and we got married,” he remembers.
“I just want everyone to remember my wife … was a wonderful lady, very generous and very compassionate.”
CALGARY — Rita Owen is being remembered as a fun-loving social butterfly who loved gossiping with friends over tea and playing slots at the casino.
“She had quite a zest for life,” her son, Michael Owen, says from Gabriola, B.C.
She was also a devout Catholic. Had she not married late in life and had her only child, Owen says he could picture his mother becoming a nun. “Most people actually thought she was.”
She died three weeks shy of her 92nd birthday at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, where there has been a major COVID-19 outbreak and many deaths.
Owen says his mother moved into the home after she broke her hip in a fall in 2014. She was so sick then that she was given last rites. But she pulled through.
“Every day past then has been borrowed time, extra time, bonus time.”
She died never knowing she had contracted the virus.
“At her age, I just wanted her to enjoy what time she had and not worry,” her son says.
Huy Hao Dao
MONTREAL — Huy Hao Dao, the first doctor in Quebec known to have died of COVID-19, is being remembered by his friends and colleagues as a highly competent researcher and academic who was dedicated to public health.
Dao, 45, was working as a COVID-19 researcher and investigator, tracking down infected patients to learn how they caught the virus and tracing who they may have come into contact with, says good friend and colleague David-Martin Milot.
Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, says Dao did not work in a clinical setting so he could not have contracted the virus from working with patients. It remains unclear how he became infected.
Dao worked as a pharmacist before going to medical school and becoming a specialist in public health and preventive medicine.
He was employed by the public healthy authority of Quebec’s Monteregie region, south of Montreal. Since 2018, he was also a faculty member of the community health sciences department at Universite de Sherbrooke.
Milot says his friend was “a great scientist” who knew about many different subjects and could be counted on to give sound medical advice.
Dao was also very humble and worked often in the background, Milot says.
“He wasn’t the guy who stood in front of the cameras or the microphone. And that’s why I wanted to talk to the media about him, because his job didn’t let the public know who he was.”
The department of public health for Quebec’s Monteregie region says Dao will be remembered by his colleagues “for his competence, his dedication and his perpetual smile.”
SARNIA, Ont. — Vicki Kap was known for her love of family, which for her included former refugees she invited into her home for decades before she died from COVID-19.
Jody Brouwer, Kap’s daughter, remembers growing up with a Cambodian couple and their two children living in their basement.
Vicki and Frank Kap opened their hearts and their home to people from around the globe, including Nicaragua, El Salvador and Syria before her death at age 75.
“We’ve got a big extended family from all countries of the world,” Brouwer says.
The woman known for her big smile spent the last four years caring for Frank, who has stage-four bowel cancer and is waiting to go into hospice while grieving for his wife.
The couple would have celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary on March 26, when Kap was on a ventilator. She died three days later.
Family was the focus on her last day, too, as she lay in a medically induced coma.
Brouwer and her brother John Kap were at their mother’s bedside wearing head-to-toe personal protective equipment. Her children shared stories with Kap and videos of her grandchildren.
STRATHROY, Ont. — Martin Postma’s wife considers the last month with her husband before his death a gift as they spent time enjoying the sights of Portugal.
Mieke Postma says her 74-year-old husband had diabetes but was in otherwise good health before he developed a cough, had the chills and quickly became increasingly weak.
At that point, he barely had enough energy to make it onto the stretcher when an ambulance arrived to take him to their local hospital in Strathroy before he was transferred the next day to University Hospital in nearby London.
Postma was surprised her husband even had the energy to phone her from the emergency department to say doctors were planning to put him on a ventilator.
But she says that last conversation, before his death on March 27 in the intensive care unit, was also a gift from the man she’d married 52 years earlier.
A retired nurse, Postma says she considered the quality-of-life her husband would have had if he had survived as his kidneys shut down on a ventilator and his other organs also began to fail.
Just before the family decided to discontinue treatment on the ventilator, Postma was told her husband’s survival rate would be about 10 per cent, and if he did survive, he would need lifelong care.
“That hit me between the eyes. I thought, ‘That’s not good.'”
Noble (Butch) Gullacher
REGINA — Noble Gullacher was a family man who loved watching his sons play basketball and his grandchildren play soccer.
Gullacher, known by family and friends as Butch, was a diabetic who was waiting for a kidney transplant when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 19.
The 69-year-old died April 10 in a Regina hospital.
Gullacher was a husband, a father to two sons and a grandfather to their three children.
“He was a good dad, but he was a really wonderful grandfather,” says his wife, Kathleen Gullacher. “He loved his family.”
She says they are a close-knit family which regularly gathers for Sunday night dinners.
Gullacher also loved race cars and trap shooting.
“He liked to be active,” she says. “He loved to be out and doing things.”
Gullacher was retired after being a conductor with CP Rail for 35 years.
CALGARY — Mike and Deb Diemer were expecting 2020 to be the best year of their lives.
Then, on March 19 Deb Diemer was diagnosed with COVID-19. She died on March 30.
“My in-laws have lost a daughter, my sisters-in-law have lost a sister, I’ve lost a wife and my daughter has lost her mom,” Diemer says.
Doctors had always followed his wife’s health closely after she was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension in 1986.
Diemer says she was able to keep the disease in check with medication until late 2001. She was able to get a double-lung transplant months later in 2002.
About six weeks before her death she got a kidney transplant with a donation from her older sister, Kathy Ziegler.
Diemer says his wife only experienced mild COVID-19 symptoms and her doctors recommended she stay home to recover, since she wasn’t having difficulty breathing and could speak in full sentences.
But she deteriorated quickly and went into medical distress at home, he says. Doctors later told him that she had died within hours of the virus attacking her heart.
“My wife is an Irish redhead and she never backed down from a fight,” Diemer says.
“Every time, she didn’t complain. She just faced whatever she had to face and kept going. We thought she was going to beat COVID-19, too.”
WINNIPEG — Wade Kidd had an absolute love for life.
His family says in a statement that Kidd started developing flu-like symptoms on March 18 and was admitted to hospital on March 27 where his condition deteriorated quickly.
The grandfather, father and husband died on April 2, about a month before his 55th birthday.
Kidd had some underlying health concerns, however, in general he was healthy and active, his family says.
He could fix anything and enjoyed camping. He was a loving husband and proud father to his two sons. His love for his two young grandchildren knew no bounds, his family says.
“His monster hugs made us feel safe and his easygoing manner kept us calm in stressful times,” his wife writes.
Kidd was a private person, but the family wanted to share his story. His family says they hope it will convince everyone to stay home so further families don’t have endure what they are facing, mourning without the ability to have a funeral.
“He was a steady ship in a crazy storm, and now he is gone. Now that storm threatens to swallow us whole.”
HIGH PRAIRIE, Alta. — Shawn Auger, a father of three, died March 30 at the age of 34.
His wife, Jennifer Auger, says her husband started developing symptoms on March 13 and was diagnosed on March 16. He was hospitalized shortly after and died March 30.
She says he was particularly affected because by the disease he was asthmatic.
“He was also a big guy, like a teddy bear,” she says.
Shawn Auger was involved in youth hockey and worked at the Youth Assessment Centre in High Prairie, Alta., about 370 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. His wife says a position was created especially for him to help youth transition out of the facility.
“That job, he loved it,” she says. “He loved it because he got to meet new people, talk to the youth and mean something to them.”
She says her husband first went to school to become a police officer and served in various placements, including at the Edmonton Institution, before he decided to work with young people.
“He wanted to work with the youth … to make a difference, so they didn’t end up in jail or anything like that.”
She says she and her husband recently bought a house in the High Prairie area to renovate and turn into a group home.
It’s something she plans to continue in his memory.
“Through all this, we did not lose Shawn,” she says. “We gained a fighting, caring, wonderful angel … and he is still working from beyond.”
NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Alice Grove was a 75-year-old widow who lived alone on a farm in west-central Saskatchewan.
Her sister Eleanor Widdowson says Grove, a former nurse’s aide at Saskatchewan Hospital, was having breathing difficulties and collapsed in her home on March 28. She died in hospital the next day.
The sisters last saw each other on March 13 when they met for coffee in nearby North Battleford.
Widdowson believes her sister contracted the virus on one of her many trips into the city.
“We had warned her and warned her and warned her to stay at home,” Widdowson told Saskatoon radio station CKOM. “But she’d get lonely. Anyone would, living out on a farm by themselves.”
Grove’s battle with COVID-19 was hampered by diabetes, says Widdowson. Grove had also survived a battle with cancer.
Ultimately, Widdowson says she made the decision to remove Grove from life support.
“You have to be sensible about it and not take treatment away from a possible 35-year-old that can get better, when you know the 75-year-old lady’s not going to get better.”
Dr. Denis Vincent
NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. _ Dr. Denis Vincent is being remembered as a dedicated dentist who made patient care and safety his top priority.
Vincent was 64 when he died on March 22 after attending the Pacific Dental Conference, which drew about 15,000 people.
Family lawyer Bettyanne Brownlee says Vincent was diligent in adhering to recommended practices for infection control throughout his more than 40-year career. He was quarantining himself when he died.
She says Vincent cared deeply about people, had a great sense of humour, and his two great loves were skiing and sailing with friends and family.
“He was enormously proud of his sons, who will keep their memories close as they come to terms with the absence of their father from their adult lives,” Brownlee says.
MONTREAL _ Mariette Tremblay’s granddaughter says her 82-year-old grandmother was a caring woman who was loved by all.
In the Facebook post, Bibianne Lavallee says her grandmother had suffered from respiratory problems and, when the virus struck, she was vulnerable. Her death was reported by Quebec health authorities on March 18.
Lavallee says Tremblay took ill before Quebec began taking exceptional measures to combat the spread of the virus.
“Unfortunately, by the time all of the measures were announced and taken, it was too late to spare my grandmother,” Lavallee says. “When her diagnosis was announced, she was already doomed.”
Lavallee urges people to follow recommendations of public health officials.
“We didn’t have a chance to save Grandma. But you have the chance to make a difference now that we know; now that we know the damage caused by this pandemic,” she says.
“Everything must be done to prevent human tragedies like the one we are experiencing from continuing to multiply. We want the death of my grandmother, the first victim in Quebec of COVID-19, to help save lives.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2020.
The Canadian Press