On a day that should have been marked by celebration, COVID-19 took Thomas Martins’ life on his 30th birthday. His death came just nine days after his mother Carolyn Martins-Reitz, 55, had died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Thomas Martins loved to celebrate his birthday each year, Thomas’ stepfather, Rudy Reitz explained. “For months ahead of time he would constantly be reminding us about his birthday. And then all of a sudden this hit, so we were trying our best to reassure him that we would have some sort of a birthday celebration.”
Rudy Reitz describes Thomas and his mother’s relationship, saying the mother’s life ‘revolved around him.’
“They were each other’s whole world,” Rudy Reitz told Buzzfeed News. “Her entire life revolved around making sure that Thomas was healthy, loved, and stayed active.”
In a GoFundMe page set up for the mourning New Jersy family by Thomas’ godmother, Joni Forte-Lewin describes Carolyn as the “kindest and strongest wife, mother, and friend imaginable.”
She also goes on to explain that Thomas had down syndrome and that the page was set up to raise money for funeral services, burials, and medical bills for both Thomas and his mother.
‘This family has been devastated by the coronavirus.’
Forte-Lewin described the grieving family’s situation, “This family has been devastated by the coronavirus. Their world has been turned upside down.”
She wrote that before Thomas’ death, he was put on a ventilator in the ICU at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey. The family was optimistic because he seemed to have been “responding to treatment” as of March 30.
Before becoming symptomatic with coronavirus, Thomas had been asking his stepfather about his upcoming birthday.
Thomas’ stepfather explained that he was very much looking forward to celebrating his birthday on April 6 before falling ill.
“Even when I was with him in the hospital, he was asking about his birthday, and I told him, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll fix you up. We’ll get out of here and you’ll have your birthday,'” he shared.
Thomas would never leave the hospital, but he was honored by officials from the Felician School, where Thomas was enrolled in a program for those with special needs over the age of 21.
Thomas’ school delivered pizza and cake for him and hospital staff to celebrate.
Teachers and officials from Thomas school sent pizza and cake to the hospital where Thomas was being treated. 20 of his friends joined a video call to wish him a happy birthday.
“He passed away not long after that,” Rudy said. “So one of the last things his subconscious got to hear was people singing him ‘Happy Birthday.'”
Carolyn had been hospitalized on March 23, after Rudy called an ambulance when her symptoms started to get serious. Five days later on March 28, Carolyn died.
Days after Carolyn died, Thomas was in the hospital himself and tested positive.
“The speed that the disease developed was mind-blowing,” Rudy told NJ.com. “Everybody always says exactly the same thing. They all say, ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through.’ And ironically enough, neither can I. It’s indescribable.”
Rudy said that Thomas had a difficult time after his mother was hospitalized, “I could see that he was hurting, and I would ask him, and he would say, ‘I fine, I fine.'”
“That broke my heart,” he explained.
Carolyn got so sick, so fast, that she never knew her son was in the hospital.
Remarkably the way their symptoms developed meant that Carolyn never knew her son was sick by the time ended up in the hospital. And, Thomas was so sick that “he was never aware that his mother passed away.”
“Thomas was a big, bright light, just like his mother,” Forte-Lewin said.
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After dealing with all of this loss, Rudy and his family are still facing health challenges.
Not only is the family dealing with the emotional fallout from losing two of its members, both Rudy and his daughter, Sharon Reitz have tested positive COVID-19 according to reporting from NJ.com. They are quarantining together at home.
Sharon, 22, said losing her mother and brother “doesn’t feel real.”
“Especially since I have never seen them since they went to the hospital. So, it doesn’t even feel like they’re gone. There’s not even the closure of getting to see them before they have to be put to rest.”
Rudy told Buzzfeed, that he is bonding with his daughter and “picking up my emotional pieces.”
We hope that Rudy and Sharon recover quickly and can lean on each other during this difficult time. At the time of writing, the family’s GoFundMe page has raised almost $35,000 of its $50,000 goal.