An Alberta family is living out its worst nightmare as a man who is a husband, father and grandfather lies in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Prince George, B.C., dying of COVID-19.
Brent Renner is 64 years old. His 65th birthday is in exactly one month but his family doesn’t expect he’ll be alive to celebrate it.
On Nov. 1, he drove from Lethbridge to Prince George to launch a new division of his trucking company and prepare accommodations for his drivers.
But when he arrived, he told his kids he felt exhausted.
“He felt like he just needed to sleep, to get rested up,” explained his daughter, Jennifer Bradley.
“His speech was really laboured, so when we talked to himt, it was very hard for him to speak.”
Bradley was at home in St. Albert. She and her siblings encouraged their dad to see a doctor.
“We said, ‘It’s not going to be COVID(-19), you’re just going to need a little something to help you get over this chest cold or infection or whatever it might be.’”
Hoping he’d feel better, Renner turned up his oxygen and used his inhalers more often, but neither worked.
Two days later, an ambulance took Renner to the hospital in Prince George.
“Within one hour, he wrote back and said, ‘I’m COVID positive,’” Bradley said.
“And we thought, ‘Of all the people in the whole world that we know, you’re the one who can’t have this.’ It was instant fear, of course, and terror.”
Renner has advanced COPD, but his daughter said that never stopped him from doing things like working or playing with his 13 grandchildren.
“He carried around an oxygen tank with him for the last 10 years, but again, he lived a very normal life,” Bradley explained.
She said her dad knew he was high-risk when it came to COVID-19 and took precautions.
“He definitely was using masks and washing his hands,” Bradley said.
But she explained being on oxygen often made her dad blow his nose, so it’s possible he touched his face more often than others.
Bradley said her family believes her dad came into contact with a COVID-positive person at a store, where he’d dropped something off to be repaired on Oct. 27. When he went to pick it up a few days later, Bradley said the store had closed after a positive COVID-19 case.
“His wife was tested as well and she also had COVID(-19), but zero symptoms,” Bradley said.
Renner has been in the ICU for nearly 20 days, with no family allowed to see him. He isn’t recovering.
“He has precious little lung left is what they told me,” Bradley explained. “There isn’t a lifesaving measure that they can offer.”
She said it’s devastating to know she can’t physically be there with him in his final days.
“He’s such a positive and friendly person, so these 18 days must have felt so lonesome for him,” Bradley said.
“I wish it could be me that could go and visit with him, but I am so grateful that there are kind staff members who got to visit with him.”
Bradley said she makes sure to thank each staff member she speaks with.
“We need to remember that they have family members too, and they are walking into that danger every single day — multiple times — and they are taking that risk for us.”
Renner’s wife headed to Prince George on Friday to say goodbye.
“Because he’s now considered palliative, we had special permission for her to travel to go see him,” Bradley said. “She was only cleared from AHS on Thursday, the same day that the (B.C. travel) ban was put in place.
“They will adjust his treatment so she can say goodbye and then he can pass.”
Bradley explained that it’s upsetting when people spread misinformation about the novel coronavirus or simply dismiss it.
“It isn’t a hoax, and it isn’t unreal,” she said.
“The things that I hear that hurt are that people are elderly or they were going to die anyway. Or people like my dad — they were sick already. Yeah, he was, but maybe he had more months. And I would take more months. I would take more hugs. I would take another Christmas.”
Bradley wants Renner and everyone else who has died of COVID-19 to be remembered as more than a statistic.
“The number of people who are dying, the number of people in their 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s, remember that’s somebody’s mom and uncle and best friend. Somebody loves them, and that somebody had to die alone.”
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