Man with Down syndrome dies of COVID-19 on 30th birthday, days after mom's death

The last thing he heard was the sound of his classmates singing "Happy Birthday."
/ Source: TODAY

A New Jersey man with Down syndrome died from the coronavirus on his 30th birthday — but not before his friends surprised him with a virtual celebration.

Thomas Martins passed away on April 6, just nine days after COVID-19 claimed the life of his 55-year-old mom, Carolyn Martins-Reitz.

Thomas Martins died from the coronavirus nine days after his mother, Carolyn Martins-Reitz. Courtesy of the Reitz family

“I think Carolyn knew he wouldn’t be able to adjust to life without her. They were always together,” Martins’ godmother, Joni Lewin, told TODAY. “I have a feeling that at 11:09, which is when he went, she said, ‘OK, Thomas. It’s time to come and be with mom.'”

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Lewin noted that while Martins adored his stepfather, Rudy Reitz, and his sister, Sharon Reitz, “he depended on Carolyn for everything from the moment he was born.”

When Martins-Reitz, a graphic artist, was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance earlier this month, her son stopped talking.

“He was starting to feel sick himself, but was too upset to vocalize his symptoms,” Lewin revealed. “He just shut down.”

The following day, Martins developed a cough and was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Thomas Martins with his mom, Carolyn Reitz-Martin, stepfather, Rudy Reitz, and sister, Carolyn Reitz. Courtesy of the Reitz family

Though it was only temporary, Martins started to feel better and began asking his stepfather questions, inquiring about his mom's condition and the plans for his upcoming birthday.

Lewin, who set up a GoFundMe online fundraiser for the Reitz family, said Martins never learned of his mom's death. Reitz would divert conversation with Martins back to his birthday, which the young man had been looking forward to.

“Thomas loved a birthday more than anyone. That was his thing," Lewin recalled.

Martins' friends at The Felician School for adults with developmental disabilities knew that and honored him with a beautiful celebration.

“They sent over a big cake and a computer so Thomas hear his classmates singing to him,” Lewin told TODAY. “That was the last thing he heard. That bugger loved his birthday so much, he waited to hear them sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”