Jon and Katie Coelho on their wedding day in 2013.
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When Katie Coelho, 33, rushed to the hospital in Danbury, Connecticut, on Wednesday just before 3 a.m., it was too late.
Her husband, Jon, who had spent the past month there being treated for the coronavirus, had just died of cardiac arrest brought on by the disease.
He was just 32 years old.
Distraught and bereft, she gathered her late husband’s belongings and opened his phone, wanting to save as many pictures of him and their two children as she could.
But what she found when she turned it on stopped her in her tracks.
He’d left her a note.
“I love you guys with all my heart and you’ve given me the best life I could have ever asked for,” Jon had written. “I am so lucky it makes me so proud to be your husband and the father to Braedyn and Penny.”
“Katie you are the most beautiful caring nurturing person I’ve ever met,” the note continued. “You are truly one of a kind…make sure you live life with happiness and that same passion that made me fall in love with you. Seeing you be the best mom to the kids is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Katie was stunned to find the note, which she believes Jon must have written weeks earlier before he was first intubated, she told BuzzFeed News on the day of his death.
“Even though he was fighting for his life for the past month, I know up until the last second he wanted to make sure the kids and I were okay,” she said. “He knew he had to say something to me because I haven’t been able to speak to him in so long.”
Jon and Katie met as college students at Western Connecticut State University. They started out as close friends, then became boyfriend and girlfriend, and finally, in 2013, became husband and wife. Together, they had two children: Braedyn, 2 and a half, and Penelope, 10 months.
Katie and Jon had a difficult road to building their family, she told BuzzFeed News. They had two miscarriages and went through IVF. Braedyn was born with severe neurological problems and the parents were told he had just six weeks to live.
Miraculously, he survived. Katie now cares for him full-time, and Jon provided for the family working at a nearby courthouse.
Jon’s friend Jacob Wycoff told BuzzFeed News that Jon was a “devoted father” and “a bit of a romantic when it comes to Katie.”
Jacob Wycoff (right) with Jon and Katie Coelho.
“Jon was the sole provider for the family, so he worked really hard to make sure Katie didn’t have to leave the house to take care of earning,” Wycoff said. “But when it was his time with the kids, he really, really enjoyed it.”
Wycoff went to college with Jon and Katie, and he and Jon were in the same fraternity. They stayed close friends over the years, attended each other’s weddings, and had children around the same time.
More than anything, Wycoff said he feels the most sadness for Jon’s children.
“They’re not going to grow up to know how amazing their dad was,” Wycoff said. “And that really is sad to me, because he is — was — an amazing guy.”
Jon Coelho with his children, Braedyn and Penelope.
Because Braedyn is considered high-risk for the coronavirus, the entire family had been extremely cautious about quarantining. Katie and the two children stayed home, but Jon, who was considered an essential worker, still had to go to work.
“My husband wore gloves, masks, he washed his hands,” Katie said. “He was so super vigilant because he was so afraid of what would happen to our son if he caught it.”
But on March 24, he found out he’d been in contact with someone who’d tested positive for the virus. Jon didn’t feel very sick — just fatigue, a migraine, and no sense of smell — but he got tested, and it came back positive, so he quarantined himself in a separate part of the house.
“Within 24 hours, he started coughing, and with the coughing fits, he wouldn’t be able to catch his breath in between,” Katie said. “The doctor told him to go to the hospital because he’d probably need nebulizer treatments.”
For nearly a week, the doctors tried treating him with medications, but he was still struggling and had to be intubated.
“I don’t know why I put my phone on vibrate that night, but I did,” Katie said. “And I slept through a 4 a.m. phone call from him that said his breathing got a little weird in the night, so they said they’re gonna have to let his body rest so he could come home to me and the kids, and that he loved us.”
Even after Jon was put on the ventilator, the doctors expected him to make a full recovery, Katie said. But things quickly took a turn for the worse.
“They tried to wake him up on day seven, and he was breathing way, way, way too hard,” she said. “They thought he was having a panic attack, so they FaceTimed me, and he just said, ‘I love you and I’m sorry,’ and then they had to re-intubate him.”
After that, his kidneys started failing, and he ran a high fever for days. Jon had to be sedated because he would wake up delirious and panicked and try to rip out his ventilator tubes, she said.
“He especially became agitated after talking to us, because he’d try to talk over the ventilator, and it would cause too much stress and his breathing would get out of whack,” she said.
But over the course of a couple weeks, Jon showed signs of improvement. Doctors gradually started weaning him off the sedatives and began testing to see how he’d do off the ventilator.
“They trialed him all day [Tuesday], and he did a really good job,” she said. “He would get nervous, but the nurses were able to talk him down, and he was responsive.”
She spoke to a doctor that night around 9 p.m., and hung up feeling hopeful, she said.
“The doctor I’d spoken to said, ‘We’re going to be able to wake your husband up in two days,’” she said. “And they started talking to me about recovery.”
Hours later, though, Jon went into cardiac arrest and died.
Katie said she and the doctors still don’t really know how or why it happened. The doctors took Jon off the ventilator Tuesday night, saying he was awake and responsive and the tubes were making him panic again, but he seemed mostly OK just hours before his death.
“My son just got his adaptive communication device [Tuesday] night, and I sent [Jon] a video of our son saying, ‘Dad, you’re my best friend,’” Katie said. “They showed it to him, and out of nowhere, his heart just started freaking out.”
The doctors called Katie, who rushed to the hospital. By the time she got there less than an hour later, he was gone.
Katie is having trouble believing her husband will never come home alive from the hospital. He was young and healthy. He’d survived bouts of cancer at ages 8 and 16, but because he’d been in remission for so long, his doctor had said it wouldn’t cause complications.
“They kept telling me he would make it because he was a healthy 32-year-old with no preexisting health conditions,” Katie said.
In the note he left her, Jon wrote special messages to his two kids.
“Let Braedyn [know] he’s my best bud and I’m proud to be his father and for all the amazing things he’s done and continues to do,” Jon wrote. “Let Penelope know she’s a princess and can have whatever she wants in life.”
He also encouraged Katie to find love again.
“I’m so lucky,” he wrote. “Don’t hold back, and if you meet someone know that if they love you and the kids that I love that for you. Always be happy no matter what!”
He’d also taken the time to write out the passwords to access important information, such as their mortgage, Katie said.
“He made you feel so loved,” she said. “I never doubted how much he loved me and the kids.”
Finding his letter feels like a bit of a double-edged sword, Katie said.
“I’m so thankful I found the note, but the other part of me is so sad,” she said. “Because I know how scared he was and where his mind must’ve been to think he had to write something like that.”
“Right now, I feel like a part of me died,” she added. “He’s been my best friend for 13 years, and we’ve been married for eight, and he was the only person who understood our life with having a special needs child.”
What hurts most, Katie said, is knowing her two children will have to grow up without their father — and that their father will never get to see them grow up.
“My kids aren’t going to remember their dad — it’s going to be me making sure they remember their dad and know their dad,” she said. “So I have that note to say, ‘Your dad was really sick and fighting for his life, but he wanted you to know how much he loved you.’”
“He loved his kids so much, and I know he didn’t want to leave them,” she said. “It feels so sad that they’re both going to miss out on each other. It’s not fair.”
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Julia Reinstein is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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