Heartbreakingly, he is now also sick with COVID-19.

By Gabrielle Chung
July 22, 2020

A family is revealing the heartbreaking reality of the deadly novel coronavirus pandemic, sharing a video of the moment a loving husband, 90, said goodbye to his wife before she succumbed to the virus.

Sam Reck had been married to Alice "JoAnn" Reck, 86, for nearly 30 years when the state of Florida placed a ban on visitors at nursing homes due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

JoAnn was diagnosed with dementia around a year ago and had been living in a nursing home separately from her husband. Despite the restriction, Sam — who lives in a building next door to his wife's nursing home — found a way to stay in touch by waving to JoAnn from his apartment balcony, earning them the nickname "Romeo and Juliet" from their community.

However, their distant visits stopped when JoAnn began showing symptoms of COVID-19 this month and tested positive for coronavirus at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.

Sam and JoAnn Reck before her hospitalization
Scott Hooper/TMX.news

Though visitors are generally prohibited from hospitals amid the pandemic, exceptions are made for end-of-life situations.

In an emotional video captured by his family, Sam dressed in full protective gear so he could see his wife in person before she died. At the time, the couple had been physically apart for months.

“They suited us all up in all protective gear,” Sam told USA Today. “We might have looked rather ominous, but we could hold her hand and talk to her to try to reassure her that we loved her.”

JoAnn's son, Scott Hooper, told ABC affiliate WFTS that his mother developed a fever, cough and fatigue last week. Doctors could have put JoAnn on a ventilator, but the procedure would've been very painful for her and the family opted for palliative care instead, according to Hooper.

Sam and JoAnn Reck
Scott Hooper/TMX.news
Sam Reck
Scott Hooper/TMX.news

"COVID was hitting her so hard and so fast," he said. "Anyone who has dealt with it knows what I am talking about because they don't always remember you or know the situation they're in or they think something weird is happening and you try to tell them it's not."

"It was the hardest decision we ever made. We talked about it for a long time, but we decided to go to palliative care," he added.

Sam and JoAnn Reck
Scott Hooper/TMX.news

When Sam embraced JoAnn for the last time, Hooper said there was barely a dry eye in the room.

"It was my wife who recorded the video, and I remember everyone in the room was crying," he recalled. "I remember looking at my wife, she was crying so hard, she could barely hold the camera. It was a very emotional moment."

Heartbreakingly, Sam is now also now sick with the coronavirus.

Hooper told news service TMX that Sam started showing COVID-19 symptoms following his hospital visit and since tested positive for the virus. Sam has been moved to a skilled nursing facility and is in isolation.

Sam and JoAnn Reck shared a love of bluegrass music
Scott Hooper/TMX.news

JoAnn passed away on July 12. Originally a native of Georgia, she was described as a "devoted mother and grandmother" who traveled the country with Sam to attend Bluegrass conferences and festivals in her online obituary.

"She will be forever remembered by her beautiful voice, and her selfless, giving attitude that she bestowed upon so many," her obituary read.

JoAnn's family asked that memorial donations be made in her honor to the Dementia Society of America.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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