JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The death of 88-year-old Donald Haws came as a shock to his five children.
Their dad moved into independent living at Jacksonville senior facility, Camellia at Deerwood, two years ago with his wife Loraine. While there, he stayed active.
He served as a Eucharistic minister and was on the parish council at Holy Family Catholic Church in Jacksonville. He was on the board of the Jacksonville Area Golf Association. He was even on the committee responsible for giving out year-end holiday gifts for staff. He spent all his travel time visiting his children and grandchildren up and down the East Coast.
"He exercised every day. He was a voracious reader. He kept his mind sharp. He was independent. He had just bought a new car,” said daughter Barbara Haws. “He did his own grocery shopping. We live about 15 miles apart. He came here to see me three or four times a week. He really treasured his independence.”
Barbara, who lives in Jacksonville, said things changed quickly in March. One day, he could not get out of bed.
“I said I will drive you over to the hospital and he said ‘No, I don’t think I could make it.’ So I called 9-1-1,” said Haws. “That was on a Friday morning, by Saturday night he had a positive test and was on the ventilator by 11 p.m. It was very quick."
Haws family learned he’d contracted COVID-19, a virus that the CDC says puts adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions at a higher risk for severe illness.
“This was pretty early in the COVID thing. I think we were all really hoping it wasn’t that. But, I think in the back of our minds we knew it was a possibility,” said Barbara. “So, when it came back we were all really disappointed of course, but we really didn’t expect that he would never come off the ventilator. We just assumed he was a strong man and you know the virus would run its course and it would be done and he would come home."
The Haws family says their father rapidly succumbed to the novel coronavirus, an illness that has killed at least 70 people in Florida and nearly 3,000 people in the United States. He leaves behind five children; Robert, Jeanne, Barbara, Mary and Susan; and nine grandchildren.
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“I don’t think they will ever know how my dad got it. Within a week of entering the hospital less than that he was gone, and it was a shock. It was unfortunate and very painful, because we always thought we would have the chance to say goodbye,” said Barbara. “It’s unfair.”
The facility where Donald lived for the last two years, Camellia at Deerwood, is one of multiple senior living facilities dealing with outbreaks of COVID-19 in Florida.
Reports obtained through a public records request show the city tracking at least three deaths at the facility. At least 216 residents and staff members were tested for the virus and multiple floors have been decontaminated.
Haws’ children say they feel like Camellia at Deerwood has done everything it can to contain the virus.
“I just don’t blame Camellia. He contracted this before they realized that it was happening, that it was inside their walls. The Department of Health, the CDC, the Jacksonville Fire Department. Everyone was all over it,” said Barbara. “They have been on top of this. They are doing the best they can.”
His family is still trying to work out a date for his family in friends to come together, once social distancing and stay at home orders are lifted. But, in the meantime, his family says they have a message for people.
“I think we should all assume we have it or that we carry it in order not to spread it. We just have to continue to self-isolate until the threat is gone. I can’t stress it enough,” said Barbara. “It’s serious. It’s serious. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise."
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations are made in his name to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.