Losing a loved one to COVID-19: How a Houston family's patriarch died alone

A Houston great-grandfather was one of the first in our area diagnosed with COVID19.

James Campbell, 88, was rushed to CHI St. Luke’s Hospital in mid-March 2020. He tested positive for COVID-19 and died by the end of the month.

"It’s been really, really hard,” says his son James T. Campbell.

Hard because not only did this new virus take the 88 year old from his loving family, the novel coronavirus took away their chance to share his last days alive.

“It was really surreal. You’re not there to hold his hand, to see him and to just be there and literally he died by himself, he died by himself."

Campbell was a church deacon, a World War II veteran, a huge sports fan and oh so giving. In fact, the dedicated husband and father almost gave his only son his name.


"My mom wanted me to be a junior but my dad’s middle name was Cleophus and she says I’m not naming my son Cleophus.  So I didn’t get the ‘C' but I got a ’T’,” smiles the younger Campbell.

James T. Campbell says his dad taught him and his four sisters to be civic leaders. "If you want to make a difference you have to be the difference in your community. That was instilled in all of us”.

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In fact, as African Americans are infected by COVID-19 at an alarming rate, Campbell hopes his dad’s story will help change that.

"I don’t want to see our community own COVID-19 like we did the HIV epidemic."

The elder Campbell suffered high blood pressure and diabetes but was fairly healthy until mid-March when he began struggling to breathe. An ambulance rushed him to Houston’s St. Lukes Hospital where the family was devastated to leave him alone, isolated, and diagnosed with COVID-19.

Then someone came along who was like a guardian angel.


“One nurse who took down the names of all of his kids and went and prayed with dad using our names truly went above and beyond the call of duty. She didn’t have to do that but she knew how much it meant to us. So she prayed with him because we couldn’t."

After eight days on a ventilator, the patriarch passed away on March 31, 2020.

“We couldn’t even go to my mom’s house and hang with her to console her.  Think about that. This is a woman who lost her husband of 68 years and she has to suffer that almost in isolation. We’re a family of gatherers. We gather all the time but we didn’t gather for my dad’s funeral because of COVID19. We were in a dark and dreary funeral home 15 miles away from where the minister was doing the eulogy in an empty church."

Campbell says when this health crisis comes to an end he’s going to get his dad’s old "backyard barbecue grill gizmo" and he and his extended family will properly honor his father the way he deserves.

“My dad loved that grill. I’m going to get that thing fixed up. I’m going to throw some stuff on the grill and we’re going to celebrate him as a family."

The Campbells received test results last week for the rest of the family and no one else tested positive for COVID-19.

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