Couple diagnosed with COVID-19, wife of 66 years says goodbye

USAF vet denied military funeral due to pandemic

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to have a family member diagnosed with COVID-19, but for Joelen Vaughn that became a reality twice.

Both of her parents, Dorothy and Jean Jones, were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a month apart from one another.

Both of her parents, Dorothy and Jean Jones, were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a month apart from one another.
Both of her parents, Dorothy and Jean Jones, were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a month apart from one another. (Source: Jones Family)

Vaughn said 89-year-old Dorothy was the first to become ill.

On April 11, Dorothy developed a fever of 104 and had “horrible chills” according to Vaughn.

By April 13, she was having difficulty breathing and was taken by ambulance to Jackson Hospital. They tested her for the coronavirus, but the results came back negative. She ultimately diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia.

“She spent eight days in the hospital, and then they discharged her and she came home for five days and deteriorated again and had a lot of problems with the breathing again,” Vaughn said. “So we had to make a decision to call the ambulance and take her back and again she was tested the second time in the emergency room and three days later that test came back positive.”

Vaughn said Dorothy spent two weeks in Jackson Hospital’s critical care unit on “high flow oxygen” and was almost intubated.

“My mother is a fighter. She is such a strong person. She is an inspiration and she fought and fought and fought,” Vaughn said. “After about two weeks in the CCU, they moved her up to the isolation unit.”

Meanwhile, Vaughn was helping take care of her 92-year-old father Jean who suffered from dementia. That’s when she started to notice he too was developing symptoms.

“He didn’t want to go to the hospital, but he was having a little rattle in his breathing and I was afraid that he had gone downhill too and that he had pneumonia,” Vaughn said.

On May 6, they sent Jean by ambulance to Jackson Hospital. Now, just three floors apart, Jean and Dorothy were both fighting for their lives.

On May 13, Vaughn said, “he [Jean] was doing so well they thought he was going to be discharged. I actually got sent home with some equipment here for him.” But that evening, the hospital decided to keep him overnight because he was running a low-grade fever.

“The next morning I got a phone call that he had stopped breathing. He had a heart attack,” said Vaughn.

Vaughn and her brother rushed to the hospital to say their goodbyes.

“I had to get gowned up. I double gowned, booties, double mask, hair net, and a face shield,” Vaughn said. “While I was in the room he did have another heart attack.”

“I got to be with him for about three hours by myself,” Vaughn said. “I think he knew I was there. I would talk about my mother and about how he and I used to watch Gunsmoke together when I was young. We had been able to do that while my mother was in the hospital and so we talked about that.”

Nursing staff had arranged for Dorothy to say her final goodbyes through a Facetime call, but plans changed.

“I had begged them to please let her come up and they couldn’t because of rules, but the doctor decided that she would go ahead and discharge her so she could come upstairs,” Vaughn said. “The nurse brought her up in a wheelchair and she got to hold his hand and talk to him and say I love to him for the last time. That was such a special moment, it really was.”

Both of her parents, Dorothy and Jean Jones, were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a month apart from one another.
Both of her parents, Dorothy and Jean Jones, were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a month apart from one another. (Source: Jones Family)

Jean was in the hospital for a total of eight days before passing on May 14 at 6:22 p.m.

Jean Jones will be buried on May 20. Dorothy is now home and still fighting pneumonia. Vaughn said “she is a faithful woman” and that her mother believes this is “all God’s timing.”

Jean died a 24-year military veteran. He enlisted in the Navy when he was 18 years old, right out of high school. He spent three years in the Navy and then enlisted in the Air Force. He spent 20 years in the Air Force and then when he retired he did another year in the reserves.

While Jean can't have a military burial with full honors due to the pandemic, strangers who heard his story are working to do something special.

Vaughn said she was connected by a woman in the community who has arranged for a group of local veterans to honor Jean at his funeral.

The Patriot Riders are not allowed to do processions right now, but Vaughn said they have “graciously said they will come and put flags up at the funeral home” for her father.

“He is going to be honored,” Vaughn said. “It’s such a wonderful act of humanity that they are doing this. These people, they don’t know my father, they don’t know us, but they are coming together for my family and my father and that’s just a beautiful thing.”

Both of her parents, Dorothy and Jean Jones, were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a month apart from one another.
Both of her parents, Dorothy and Jean Jones, were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than a month apart from one another. (Source: Jones Family)

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