It’s a startling beginning of an obituary announcing the passing of Candace Cay Ayers from complications of severe COVID-19.
“She was preceded in death by more than 4,531,799 others infected with covid-19. She was vaccinated but was infected by others who chose not to be. The cost was her life,” it reads.
The Springfield, Illinois, mother was 66 and received her second shot of the Moderna vaccine in March, said Marc Ayers, her son.
But the family believes she caught the breakthrough infection in July after visiting an unvaccinated friend in Mississippi. Her condition deteriorated quickly and she died on Sept. 3, three weeks after being placed on a ventilator.
“Mom was a fighter… and mom was so angry at people for not getting vaccinated and not wearing a mask,” Marc Ayers, 36, told TODAY.
“Mom was very vocal about people who just refused to take those precautions and so we thought it was a good idea to put that in the obituary and make a statement out of it.”
His sister, Amanda, wrote the obituary, with the family hoping it would inspire people to get vaccinated and continue to take precautions as COVID-19 cases spike.
'We did everything that we were advised to do'
Candace Ayers was relieved to become fully vaccinated this spring because she had a pre-existing condition, rheumatoid arthritis, and was already immunocompromised, her son said.
The whole family, including her 68-year-old husband, Terry, and both of their adult children received the jabs at the same time. They continued to avoid eating inside restaurants and kept wearing masks while grocery shopping, Marc Ayers recalled.
“We did everything that we were advised to do,” he said.
“We're a family that believes in science, believes in the medical advice of the community, medical recommendations from doctors. We followed everything very strictly. So all that combined is kind of what we're still in shock about how it didn't seem to matter, at least for my mom.”
In mid-July, Candace and Terry Ayers drove to Mississippi to visit an unvaccinated friend whose husband had earlier had COVID-19 and passed away. Everyone thought the couple would be safe since they were both vaccinated and breakthrough cases around that time were rare, their son said.
“I wish there was better science out at the time that said maybe they should stay home, maybe these precautions are good for regular people, but (not) for the immunocompromised. I wish doctors had not cleared my mom to travel to Mississippi.”
As the couple drove back home five days later, Candace Ayers already felt very fatigued and later developed joint pain, nausea and a cough, Marc Ayers recalled. She tested positive for COVID-19 on July 28, while her husband tested positive three days later. His case was mild, but she continued to deteriorate.
After two visits to the emergency room, Candace Ayers was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. As her oxygen levels continued to drop, she was put on a ventilator. Just when she seemed to improve, she developed sepsis.
“After that, any progress that my mom had made in terms of her lungs getting a little bit better was erased and the pneumonia took over with a vengeance,” her son said.
“The last week or so of her being alive, her lungs were completely white in the X-ray — they had completely filled up with fluid and infections.”
She was fully sedated and couldn’t squeeze the hands of her loved ones. They don’t know if she was aware they were there. Doctors told the family to consider comfort care, which entails giving pain medications to the patient, removing life support and letting her go peacefully. That’s what happened on Sept. 3.
“She took about four or five breaths after that and she passed away right there within a matter of minutes,” her son said.
“I would just wish (unvaccinated people) would read the story of my mom, what we as a family went through and see if that's something they want to put their loved ones through, because I can probably assure you that it's not.”
Marc Ayers urged everyone to get the vaccine and wear a mask to protect themselves and others. Already, acquaintances and strangers have reached out to tell him they received the shot after reading his mom’s story, he said: “It is working already, and so the more that we can keep talking about it, the better it will be.”