MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Losing a loved one to COVID-19 is not easy, and it is made especially difficult because most people cannot physically be with their loved ones in their final moments.
Sheila Perry and her family know all too well what this is like. Their father, Tex Edward Walton, passed away in November 2020 from COVID-19 at Ruby Memorial Hospital. Perry’s last interaction with him was through a tablet device.
The same day he died, she and her sister, Pamela Johnston, decided to raise money to buy iPads and other tablet devices for other COVID-19 patients who could not communicate with their loved ones face-to-face.
“If one person that we have gotten a device to was able to survive the loneliness and the traumatic experience of COVID, let alone the health issue, it was worth it all,” Perry said.
The original plan was to buy enough tablets for the COVID rooms at Ruby, but after about a month, they hit that goal. But they decided to keep going on.
So far, they have donated 21 tablets to hospitals in North Central West Virginia. Ruby, Stonewall Jackson Memorial, UHC, St. Joseph’s, Davis Medical Center – Elkins and Mon General.
Also, Perry has ordered four devices for the Charleston Area Medical Center and two for Broaddus Hospital.
All of these items will be donated through the help of Perry and her family’s fundraising efforts. They started a GoFundMe that they use to raise money for tablets. It has raised $900 out of the $5,000 goal.
“We’re very appreciative of everyone who is donating,” she said. “We will probably keep it up as long as people keep donating. I will probably keep the fundraiser going and as money comes in.”
Perry said she and her family are fundraising to help other families, but they also honor her father. Tex, she said, was a father with a “big heart” who donated as much as he can to his community and really valued local hospitals’ work.
“What better way to remember my dad and to honor him and his giving heart, and I know that if he would have pulled through, he would have done himself,” she asked. “He would have sent the money himself and just filled every room.”
But since he’s not here, she and the rest of the family will carry the torch in his place and help those in need.
“I am getting so much comfort, and I’m blessed beyond measure by the number of people and by the amount of money that we have been able to collect,” Perry said. “My family has given, and I have given; my daughter, who is 15, has given.”
They all gave because even though her father’s last moments weren’t the best memories, “they are still memories.” And from Perry’s perspective, all families deserve to have those final memories of their loved ones– good or bad.
She said the devices would remain at each hospital even beyond the pandemic to ensure that any family who needs to communicate with a loved one in that way can do so.
“This was such a traumatic experience on the family, and I don’t want to see anyone go through it; I really don’t,” Perry said. “If it helps one family, it helps on the patient have the will to fight and to beat this; it’s worth it all.”