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Family, friends remember Navajo RN, Marine who died from COVID-19

Corporal Raymond Joe. (Eugenia Johnson/TNS)

Eugenia Johnson held hands with her husband Raymond Joe as she drove him to the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque to seek treatment for his COVID-19 diagnosis.

She loaded three oxygen tanks into their truck and made the drive on Nov. 27 from their Farmington home.

His oxygen levels had been dropping in the days leading to the hospital trip, as Joe, 49, was adamant about seeking treatment at the VA hospital.

“That was the worst drive ever,” Johnson said. “Just because, stuff was going through my head, like, this maybe the last time I’m going to see him.”

The family of Raymond Joe posed in an undated photo. (Eugenia Johnson/TNS)

It was on Dec. 19 that Joe passed away at the hospital, nearly a month after testing positive for COVID-19.

Johnson said it was devastating to lose her husband as 21-year-old Tristan Joe, 13-year-old Noah Barton, five-year-old Chance Joe and two-year-old Shundiin Joe lost their father.

Joe served in the Marine Corps for four years as combat engineer. He earned the four medals during his military career including the National Defense Service Medal and Southwest Asia Service Medal.

He held multiple healthcare roles in the northwest region of New Mexico; working as a flight nurse at Gallup Med Flight, a tour and ICU supervisor at Gallup Indian Medical Center, a cardiology RN at San Juan Regional Medical Center and an ICU RN at Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock.

Joe enjoyed riding in the helicopter while as a flight nurse, Johnson said he used to fly in them while he served in Operation Desert Storm.

Johnson said her husband was working as a home health nurse at Giving Home Health Care in Kirtland when he contracted COVID-19.

She met Joe while both of them were RNs at the hospital in Shiprock.

“We just really clicked so well, we always had a lot of fun,” Johnson said about her husband.

She remembers her husband as being very kind and witty and as someone who would try to make people happy if they were feeling down that day.

Joe was a diehard Arizona Cardinals fan who enjoyed fishing and traveling with his family to places like Las Vegas, Nevada.

Johnson detailed how she tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 16 and the precautions the family took in attempt to avoid the virus spreading throughout the household.

Shundiin and Chance went to stay with family and didn’t contract COVID-19.

Johnson took to wearing a face mask in the house, even when she slept, as the household isolated from each other.

Joe started to feel fatigued and cough two days after his wife tested positive and he developed a fever. He tested positive for the coronavirus on Nov. 21.

Johnson was worried for her husband as he had a medical history including asthma, lung scarring, diabetes and hypertension.

Joe went to the Northern Navajo Medical Center Emergency Room on Nov. 23 and given oxygen to use at home, according to Johnson. She was also on oxygen after testing positive.

Johnson spent about 30 minutes crying in her truck after dropping off her husband for treatment on Nov. 27.

Healthcare workers struggled to keep Joe’s oxygen levels up, leading them to intubate him. Johnson recalls hearing her husband was making good progress in the ICU, believing he might be extubated.

But Joe’s health took a turn for the worse for the week of Dec. 13. Johnson was informed that her husband had a stroke on Dec. 19, and he passed away later that day.

She tried to make a hospital visit to see her husband one last time on the 18th, but the VA hospital declined her request.

“I just hate this virus because it allows people to die alone and it’s just frustrating,” Johnson said.

The healthcare community in the region has reached out to Johnson and her family after Joe’s passing. People dropped off food for the family and Christmas presents for the three youngest children.

“They are just really just saddened by his death because he’s really touched a lot of lives,” Johnson said. “It’s just unfortunate that this had to happen this way.”

Suzanne Lewis, an administrator at Giving Home Health Care, said Joe will be greatly missed, not only by his patients but also his coworkers.

“He looked out for all of us,” Lewis said.

Jodi Lapahie, a case manager and assistant administrator, said Joe was willing to take on extra work to make sure all the patients were taken care of.

“Every single one of his patients appreciate everything he has done,” Lapahie said. “Not only for them but their families.”

The Navajo Hopi Honor Riders led a funeral escort for Joe from Albuquerque to Gallup State Veterans Cemetery on Dec. 30.

A small burial service occurred within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Navajo Nation COVID-19 guidelines, limiting it to five people at a time at the grave site.

Johnson hopes to hold a memorial sometime this year when the COVID-19 restrictions allow more people to gather and mourn the loss of Joe.

A GoFundMe campaign was launched to help the family pay for Joe’s burial expenses that can be found at https://gofund.me/4f433461.

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