Villager Judy Hutchins’ voice cracked Friday as she recalled losing her sister to COVID-19 less than two weeks ago.
“I have lost a daughter and five siblings but COVID-19 isn’t like anything I have ever experienced,” she said. “Never in a million years did I think my sister would die of from it. We just felt like she would get better,” Hutchins said, her voice trailing off as she revealed that her sister, Joyce Craig, had been buried earlier in the day in Louisville, Ky. in a funeral she couldn’t attend because of the threat of catching the deadly Coronavirus.
Hutchins said Craig, of the Village of Lynnhaven, spent the past 10 years loving life in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. She moved to The Villages from Kentucky after retiring from Motorola. Her brother, Larry Hanke, already had been a Villager for 10 years at the time and Hutchins and her husband, Ronnie, had plans to join them in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. After all, the siblings had been coming here for many years and they all agreed it was where they wanted to live.
For Craig, The Villages proved to be the place where she needed to be after losing four siblings in one year.
“She came down here and bought a home all by herself,” Hutchins said. “She started a life down here.”
And what a life it was. Hutchins said her sister played water volleyball four days a week and served as an attendant at the Village of Caroline gate. She enjoyed dancing at the town squares and eating at Villages-area restaurants. And at a young 75, Hutchins said the best way to describe her sister was “fun loving and always in a good mood.”
“She was a beautiful friendly woman,” said Hutchins, of the Village of Ashland. “She did all the things to stay safe from the virus. There’s just no rhyme or reason to who gets it and survives it or who doesn’t.”
Hutchins believes her sister caught COVID-19 at Thanksgiving when she traveled to Louisville to spend time with her children and their families.
“It was the only time she traveled,” Hutchins said, adding that she believes Craig was exposed to the virus at the airport in Atlanta. “I guess she felt like she was going to be safe.”
After returning home, Hutchins said Craig became ill with an upper respiratory infection. She said her sister tested negative for the virus and was given medication to take.
A few days later, Hutchins said, Craig went to an area Hobby Lobby store with a friend and became violently ill. That time, she tested positive for the virus and on Dec. 27, with her oxygen level falling, she called Hutchins and her husband for help. They, in turn, called paramedics and were advised to stay in the yard and not go inside Craig’s home.
“They took her to The Villages hospital and they treated her wonderfully,” Hutchins said. “But she went downhill really fast.”
A few days later, Hutchins received a call from the hospital and was told that Craig’s heart had stopped and they were going to put her on a ventilator. Two of her children drove down from Kentucky with the hopes of getting a glimpse of their mother through a window in her room at the hospital. And Hutchins eventually located her sister’s recently completed living will.
“The Villages hospital did everything they could do to help her, but she definitely didn’t want to be on life support or a ventilator,” Hutchins said.
On Friday, as Hutchins lamented having to miss her sister’s funeral, she recalled the last time they were together. She said they were considering having a pizza delivered when Craig brought up an elderly man she knew who was all alone and forced to use a walker.
“She said she was going to call him to see if he would like to have a pizza with her,” Hutchins said. “She was going to take dinner to him. That is the person she was. She always tried to help people.”
Hutchins added that she hopes the loss of her sister ends up helping others.
“I just hope she saves someone’s life who maybe doesn’t think this thing is real,” she said. “Please heed all the warnings. It’s a terrible thing to suffer from.”