A family is in mourning after its patriarch died alone from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) after he was exposed to infected travelers for a prolonged period of time.
Tom Sheehan, 68, passed away on Saturday while he was quarantined following a voyage on the Costa Luminosa cruise, according to his family. The grandfather had tested positive for coronavirus and was hospitalized shortly after arriving home to Bradenton, Florida, from his trip.
His sons, Kevin and Ryan Sheehan, and their family had to say their final goodbyes over speakerphone.
“I have to say again how terrible this virus can be for some,” Kevin shared in a Facebook post on March 27. “I hope with all my heart he got to hear our voices.”
“I am devastated and I’m brought to tears as I type this,” he continued. “It’s a bit cathartic to write this but again I do this in the hopes that people will pay attention, listen to the CDC/WHO and protect the masses. I beg you all to do what is right and only go out when it is necessary, as this crisis is only going to get worse.”
Courtesy Image Tom Sheehan
Tom and his wife initially boarded Costa Luminosa cruise on March 5 in Florida when the United States government had not yet issued a warning urging travelers to refrain from taking cruises.
Three days into the voyage, a husband and wife who had coronavirus symptoms disembarked in Puerto Rico, CNN reported. Several more sick travelers were dropped off at the Canary Islands before passengers were told to quarantine themselves in their rooms while the ship looked for a place to dock, according to the outlet.
Passengers eventually disembarked in Marseille, France, where American and Canadian travelers were loaded onto buses before boarding a chartered overnight flight to Atlanta, CNN said. The outlet said some were tested for coronavirus, but did not receive results before takeoff.
Kevin Sheehan told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that passengers like his father, who was not tested while overseas, were not quarantined once they reached Atlanta.
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“We were thinking, as soon as he got in, the CDC’s gonna quarantine them because so many people are sick, but that didn’t happen,” Kevin said. “My wife and I were shocked.”
Tom’s daughter, Megan Sheehan, told the Holland Sentinel that her father — who had preexisting conditions of asthma, COPD and diabetes — began falling ill soon after returning home. She said her dad was hospitalized on March 21 and placed in isolation after having trouble breathing.
Tom died on March 28 after falling into a coma, his daughter said.
“He died alone, 100 percent alone. He suffered alone,” said Megan. “It’s a very lonely virus. My stepmom sat at home, quarantined, very sick (she also contracted the virus), and had to make the call to take him off the ventilator.”
In a chilling remark, she added, “Thank God, the best part of my dad being in a coma is that he doesn’t know he died alone.”
As of Friday afternoon, there have been at least 272,502 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with more than 7,046 deaths from coronavirus-related illness, according to a New York Times database.
Worldwide, there are now 1,039,166 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 55,092 deaths.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.