GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - The past year has been a devastating year for Chris Kouns' family. Within a month, the Dacula, Georgia, retired college soccer coach lost both his father and his wife to COVID-19.
"We're almost through all of the 'firsts,'" Kouns says. "That's the most important part."
Their ordeal began when Kouns and his wife Tammy hosted his parents Phillip and Marcie Kouns at their home Christmas morning. They opened their presents together with their then 12-year-old grandson Caden, unaware Phillip Kouns, who had been battling a nagging cough, was infected with the coronavirus.
Tammy Kouns, 48, pictured with her husband Chris and son Caden, died of COVID-19 complications in February of 2021. (Kouns' family photo)
Within a few days, Chris, Tammy, his mother and father all tested positive for the virus.
Phillip Kouns, a 74-year-old Stockbridge minister, ended up critically ill and on a ventilator at Piedmont Henry Hospital.
He died in the hospital's COVID-19 unit Jan. 12.
By that time, Tammy Kouns had been hospitalized and released a couple of times. She battled the virus on and off for six weeks, before dying at 48 on Feb. 10.
In less than a month, Caden Kouns had lost both his mother and his grandfather.
Philip and Marcia Kouns pose with their grandson Caden. Philip died at 74 from COVID-19 complications in January of 2021.
"Caden turned 13 in June, which was tough, because that was obviously a big birthday, and we went through Mother's Day and her birthday, and all those other things," Chris Kouns says.
Now, as Georgia is quickly approaching 20,000 pandemic deaths, Kouns says feels deep empathy for the families of COVID-19 patients, who have to experience what his family went through.
But, he is also deeply frustrated and angry by the number of Georgians who have chosen not to get vaccinated.
"My wife and my father didn't have the opportunity for a vaccine," Kouns says. "My family was not that fortunate. And, now I see other people who are out there touting, 'Don't get vaccinated, don't wear a mask,' and then all of sudden they're in the hospital and there is some sort of epiphany like this hasn't happened for the last 18 months already? It's not an epiphany!"
Because most severely ill COVID-19 patients are isolated in the hospital, Kouns says, people may not fully understand what happens to those who become very ill.
"I am sure there is a community that thinks, 'If I can't see the suffering, it must not be happening. If it's not happening to me, then it's not real,'" Kouns says. "Maybe if people saw what it was like to try to say goodbye to somebody on a ventilator, maybe if people saw what it was like to try to tell your father goodbye over the phone, while a nurse holds it at his ear, maybe then it becomes real. I don't know. I'm still amazed that today there are people who just don't get it."
On August 30, 2021, 5,661 Georgians were hospitalized with COVID-19 complications.
That number is nearing the winter peak in hospitalizations when Kouns lost both his dad and wife to the virus.
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