KANSAS CITY, Mo. — More than 400,000 Americans and counting have now been lost to COVID-19. On Tuesday, cities across the country are reflecting and remembering the victims.
Kansas City leaders gathered at the World War I Memorial for a ceremony remembering those who’ve died. Across the KC metro, more than 1,600 have died from the virus.
For Matthew Hunt, the loss of his dad, Leonard, still doesn’t seem real.
“It’s very hard on us still because I think we’re still in shock and we really don’t know how to process it yet,” Hunt said.
Leonard, who was 71 years old with no underlying health problems, celebrated Matthew’s birthday with the family just before Christmas. Three days later, he and his wife were diagnosed with COVID-19. On Christmas Day, Leonard was rushed to the hospital.
“He couldn’t breathe. His oxygen levels were down into the 50-percentile. It started to become real then that the holidays did not matter at that point,” Hunt said. “It was trying to get him to survive at that point.”
Over the next 16 days, Leonard had good and bad moments. The family, forced to quarantine for exposure, couldn’t visit.
“He was so scared in that hospital,” Hunt said.
In early January, the Kearney and Holt community came out in droves for a honk-and-wave prayer vigil to support the Hunt family. The outpouring of support lifted Leonard’s spirits when Matthew video chatted with his dad.
“He got to see that video twice. He replayed it and showed it to all the doctors and all the nurses and said, you know, ‘Isn’t that something? Look at that,'” Hunt said.
But Matthew believes his dad knew he wasn’t going to make it when he spoke these last words on that call.
“This town would take care of us. This community would take care of us. And it was my responsibility to take care of mom, my sister, and his granddaughter,” he said.
Leonard died Jan. 9. Hunt and his sister, who is a COVID-19 nurse, couldn’t be by his side. His mom was barely able to say goodbye.
Hunt wants people to put a face with one of those numbers lost in this pandemic and to know we all have to work together to beat the virus.
“We’ve always known COVID’s real, and it has lasting effects. That’s why I know as an individual person, I wish people would take a better understanding of this and know it does have lasting effects, and it can happen to anybody,” Hunt said.
Leonard Hunt, a Vietnam War veteran, also leaves a lasting impression on a big circle of family, friends and colleagues at the Claycomo Ford plant, where he mentored hundreds of workers for more than 31 years.
Matthew said he plans to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as he’s eligible, in honor of his dad, and hopes others will, too.
A flag display in front of the World War I Memorial honoring all Kansas City-area COVID-19 victims will remain on display through Sunday for anyone wishing to pay their respects.