A metro family is mourning the loss of a career-hero and long-time firefighter Richard Walts.
Richard, who is in his 70s, was taken off a ventilator at Integris Hospital on Friday.
His wife of 46-years, Linda, who also contracted COVID-19, was at his side and in protective equipment.
“The most difficult part of it, she has to remain quarantined in her house, and her husband just died,” said Patrick Walts, the couple’s son.
His message to those all across the country, when someone dies of COVID-19, their life cannot be measured as a statistic. The memories, the pain, it’s all very much real.
“It was a couple of weeks ago. He had kind of a dry cough, and a fever,” said Patrick.
At first, Patrick said his father didn’t seem to have severe symptoms.
Richard was a former Ft. Sill Fire Chief, combat veteran, and fire marshal who was always there to save the day, a real-life hero. He even helped found the Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum.
“He touched a lot more lives, than I even understood,” said Patrick. “He has been a firefighter since he was seven years old, he was riding along to fires with his local fire station.”
Then COVID-19 took hold, and Richard spent two weeks unconscious before family had to disconnect him from the ventilator.
Patrick watched through a FaceTime phone call during those heartbreaking moments, and continues to grieve with his mother who must remain isolated as she recovers.
Patrick wrote a heartfelt open letter to caution others about the deadly virus.
“I can’t give her a hug. She can’t see her friends. Her friends are dropping things off, and putting signs in her yard, and she can’t go out and give them a hug,” he said.
Doctors believe Linda is over the worst-of-it. While the virus attacked Richard’s respiratory system, it was much different for Linda.
“Her symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal in nature, which is something that is not often talked about,” he said. “I had no idea that those were potential symptoms, nausea and vomiting, or the urge to vomit.”
Patrick said his mom is tough, but losing his father, and her own recovery, has been one of the hardest parts.
“I look at her through the window, she is just alone, and that kind of tears me up. That’s what’s weighing most heavily on my mind at the moment,” he said.
The family is planning a small service, until it’s safe for large gatherings again.