Family forced to watch from a distance as Jacksonville man succumbs to COVID-19

Jon Warren Bell, 83, died recently after complications from novel coronavirus

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jon Bell’s family often joked he had nine lives. The Navy veteran and former FBI special agent had several health scares over the years.

“He had a pulmonary embolism. He survived that. He’s had several other hospitalizations. He’s survived everything,” said son Ernst Bell.

At 83-years-old, he and his wife lived independently. They often socialized with friends and he made countless memories with his five grandchildren.

He taught his children to play tennis, his favorite sport, and he only stopped playing himself last year because of problems with his back.

According to his family, his COVID-19 diagnosis was unlike anything they had experienced before.

“I think he had a weak heart and it was just too much for him and I mean hindsight is 20/20. I wish there were other things they could have done to him early on, but at this point, I just want to celebrate his life,” Bell said. “I hope I can be as good a husband and father as he was.”

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Jon’s daughter-in-law, Melissa Bell, chronicled his entire experience from when he was admitted to the emergency room to their last goodbyes.

In one post, she described his status saying: “First, as a clarification, when we say that Jon is in isolation due to hospital lock-down, that means that he cannot have any visitors whatsoever. Not his wife of 52 years, sons, cherished friends or grandchildren. He is very loved, yet alone. Unfortunately, we cannot bring him anything either, per hospital rules.”

She added that at the time her father-in-law was in the intensive care unit, teetering on the brink of needing a ventilator.

“He was all alone, as are all patients that have this because of the isolation requirements in the hospital,” said Ernst Bell. “It was really hard on him emotionally. You could tell. He told us that. It was hard on us that we weren’t able to be with him. But it also has an impact on care, because as my wife said you are there by yourself. A lot of them are elderly – they are obviously very sick and it’s hard for them to really speak up and advocate for themselves.”

On Day 18 in the hospital, his daughter-in-law made the post she’d hoped she would not have to write. Their father was moved into hospice care. As she described in her post, his health continued to deteriorate.

That day in full protective gear, his family was allowed into the hospital to say good-bye.

“A lot of people that have passed from this have not had that opportunity and that’s probably the saddest thing was him being alone. Him being alone, us being alone. It’s very hard,” said Ernst Bell.

“His face. He was hooked up to the heavy-duty oxygen and everything else, but his face lit up when he saw his family members: My husband, his wife of 52 years and also my brother-in-law. He truly lit up and it meant the world to him to be able to see his family,” said Melissa Bell.

His last words to his wife were something his family heard him say before, according to the Bells.

“That she was the best thing that ever happened to him. So, there were a lot of tears but it was so important to be able to say those goodbyes,” said Melissa Bell.

Jon was one of the first people in Jacksonville to be counted as a case of COVID-19. His family believes it’s their duty to warn others of the seriousness of the virus and the process they went through to get him tested and treated.

“We still cannot understand how he got it in the first place and that’s really to us that’s the lesson: the social isolation you have to do it. Unless you really, unfortunately, self-isolate yourself, there is no telling,” said Ernst Bell.

Ernst and Melissa Bell’s family, including their mother, is currently in self-quarantine after visiting him earlier in the week.

They are urging people to self-isolate and assume the virus has been transmitted to them already.

Bell is one of nine confirmed COVID-19 related deaths in Duval County, as of Friday. All nine victims were in their 80s.

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