As Roland Woody entered his fourth week at Mercy Regional Medical Center battling complications with COVID-19, his family gathered around a video chat to say their final goodbyes.
“We told him we loved him,” said his granddaughter, Deliah Woody. “And it seemed like he could hear us because there were tears rolling down his face.”
Roland Woody, 69, was admitted to Mercy on June 22 after becoming infected with COVID-19. He died July 15.
Although awaiting official confirmation from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, Deliah Woody said doctors at Mercy confirmed her grandfather died of COVID-19, marking the first death from the virus in La Plata County.
“Everyone is doubtful about it being real,” she said. “But it just made it very real for us all, you know.”
Roland Woody grew up near Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. He went to school in Los Angeles to learn how to be a welder, and had a good career until an injury caused him to give it up, his granddaughter said.
Roland met his soon-to-be wife, Judy, when he was 18 years old, and moved with her to Durango while she attended Fort Lewis College.
For the past 25 years, the couple has lived in Durango. Deliah said he was an active member at the First Baptist Church, always willing to help anyone in need and loved camping and working on cars.
The couple has 10 children, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, Deliah said.
The week before Roland became ill, he could be found most days where he always was: in the shed working on a car, in good spirits.
The family had been cautious as the novel coronavirus spread throughout the U.S. Roland wore a mask when he’d go into town, carried sanitizer and even wore gloves.
“Some people are careless,” Deliah said. “But he was pretty serious about it.”
Roland and Judy, however, started feeling sick during the week of June 15. They felt fatigued, had coughs and trouble breathing. At first, the family thought they were just coming down with the common cold.
But the couple’s conditions took a turn for the worse, and they became bedridden. Ultimately, an ambulance was called June 22 for the couple. For Roland’s many children and grandchildren, they would not see him in person again.
At the hospital, the couple was tested for COVID-19. Tests results came back about a day or two later, showing they were positive.
Judy, 67, recovered after about a week in the hospital. But Roland’s health continued to deteriorate.
For the first week, Deliah said her grandfather remained conscious. The second week, he was put on a ventilator. By the third week, his organs began to fail.
To prevent the virus from spreading, no one was allowed to visit Roland in the hospital room. But minutes before his passing, Deliah said doctors and nurses set up the video chat so they could say their goodbyes.
Jann Smith, La Plata County coroner, said Roland’s previous medical conditions likely contributed to his death.
Since May, Colorado has provided two death statistics surrounding the novel coronavirus outbreak: deaths among people who had COVID-19 at the time of death and deaths caused by COVID-19.
San Juan Basin Public Health has listed Roland’s death in the former column.
But that might change once the CDC, which oversees the database for people who died directly from COVID-19, reviews Roland’s death certificate, according to the health department.
In a previous statement, Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH, said the health department is “saddened by the second death of a local resident who had contracted COVID-19, and we extend our deepest condolences.
“This is a tragic reminder of the importance of all of us making responsible decisions such as wearing face coverings, social distancing and hand washing frequently to protect our vulnerable family members, friends and strangers,” Jollon said.
The family took Roland to be buried Wednesday in the small community of Lukachukai, about 40 miles northeast of Chinle. But because COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation are so high, some longstanding traditions were not allowed.
Only 10 people were allowed at the service. Some friends and family watched the funeral services from the road in their cars. Many others, like Deliah’s father, were unable to travel to attend the burial.
In normal tradition, each member of the family would grab some soil and place it on the grave, a way of letting the deceased know his loved ones are always with him. But only a select few family members were allowed to offer this send-off.
“Since (the Navajo Nation’s) numbers are so high, they aren’t allowing services,” Deliah said. “So they dug a hole, put him in and said a prayer. That was pretty much it.”
Roland was the main beneficiary for his wife and son with special needs. As a result, the family has set up a fundraiser to help offset the costs of the funeral and help his wife.
The fundraiser can be viewed at: https://bit.ly/3fYzjYm.
Judy remains on oxygen because of her battle with COVID-19, Deliah said, and her family is watching her recovery closely. The entire family, she said, is grieving the sudden loss of their loved one.
“He would make everyone around him laugh. We loved that about him, and that’s something we’ll miss,” she said. “We’re just trying to stay strong for each other, that’s all we really can do.”