Families of 3 Mass. health care workers share memories of their loved ones lost to COVID-19 – Boston.com

Rose Taldon delighted in cooking for her loved ones — the bigger the family gathering, the better.

David Ferranti was a history buff, attentive to the needs of others, with a passion for gardening.

Cindy Locklear was a doting grandmother and great-grandmother who loved walking her dogs.

All three were dedicated to caring for others; their commitment to helping people leading them to careers in health care. For all three, it was a dedication that continued, unwavering, as they served on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in what would become the final weeks and months of their lives.

All three died after being stricken by the virus, part of the growing death toll from COVID-19 in the United States. Nationally, more than 200,000 people have died since the pandemic began, giving the United States the highest confirmed death toll in the world.

As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 713 deaths among health care workers in the country, but, according to Kaiser Health News and The Guardian, the number is potentially much higher —  around 1,250.

Experts and advocates have been raising concerns about gaps in official data tracking the deaths of health care workers from COVID-19, holes that prompted Kaiser Health News and The Guardian to launch “Lost on the Frontline,” a database tracking and memorializing the deaths of health care personnel in the United States.

Claire Rezba, an anesthesiologist in Virginia, has been keeping count on her own, searching obituaries and news stories to bear witness to the lives lost and using Twitter to share the names of health care workers who have died in the United States. She told ProPublica that by the time the CDC issued its first report in early April on deaths — 27 — in the industry, she’d already counted more than 200. She told the outlet she hoped that by drawing attention to the deaths of people on the front lines, she could convince the public — as well as officials — of the need for more transparency and data.

“I feel like if they had to look at the faces, and read the stories, if they realized how many there are, if they had to keep scrolling and reading, maybe they would understand,” she told ProPublica.

In Massachusetts, more than 9,000 people have died from the virus, with more than 126,863 contracting COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

According to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the number of health care workers who have died in the Bay State remains unclear.

A Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health report released this month estimated at least 59 workers in the state had died after being exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, but, according to The Boston Globe, those numbers crossed several industries, including retail and transportation, though the majority were in health care.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health lists some occupational information in the raw data for its daily coronavirus updates, but, according to the Globe, the state didn’t require occupational information to be included in reported test results until July.

According to the latest state data, more than 20 workers in the medical field had died of COVID-19 through the end of July. An occupation wasn’t listed for the vast majority of reported deaths from COVID-19 in the state, however, and the listing of an occupation does not indicate the individual contracted the virus at work.

Donna Kelly-Williams, the outgoing president of the nurses’ union, told Boston.com the tracking of health care worker deaths in the state is not happening “to the extent that we feel it has to.”

And even the numbers that are emerging, she said, are “just the tip of the iceberg” of the pandemic’s impact on health care workers.

“We’re finding now that this virus has long-term effects, so people that may not have been symptomatic of the COVID virus initially and may have succumbed, either to something else or died of something that we were unaware was related to the COVID virus,” she said. “I think we have a lot of work to do going forward. … Until we start connecting the dots, we’re not going to know for sure what those numbers are. And I can guarantee you, they are going to be much higher than anyone is anticipating right now.”

Kelly-Williams connected the death toll among health care workers to a lack of testing of essential workers early in the pandemic, both locally and nationally.

“There was no formalized plan for testing and ensuring the public that the very people we want caring for them had not acquired the virus themselves,” she said. “Part of that, I do believe, is the ability for employers on a very large scale — and this was not just limited to health care, but it was beyond health care  — that said, ‘You can’t prove that you got the virus here. You could have got it when you went grocery shopping, as opposed to taking care of a COVID positive patient in an intensive care unit.’ So my feeling is that the reluctance to test the way we should have been testing to begin with was based on the fact that they would have deniability of the great numbers of people that became infected as a result of not having the proper PPE and the proper safeguards in place.”

The union, she said, remains concerned about missed opportunities for domestic production of personal protective equipment. She stressed the need for ramped-up contact tracing and for elected officials to continue to listen to health care workers on the front lines as management of the pandemic continues.

“They have not died in vain,” she said of those who have passed. “Because just like myself, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and so many advocates are doing our very, very best to ensure that no more or that we minimize the risk to the very people who put their lives on the line for all of us.”

Below, three local families share memories of the loved ones they lost.

Rose Taldon. —Courtesy of Taldon family

Rose Taldon got the first taste of what would become her passion in life — nursing — when she got a job at a nursing home after graduating high school.

It would be years before she found her way back to the work, but she carried her passion for helping people in her other career, working 23 years for the MBTA as an inspector, her son, Thomas Taldon, told Boston.com.

“She always wanted to make sure all her people were good, even at work,” he said of his mother. “She wanted to make sure they got to work on time — she was just caring.”

It made pursuing nursing a “no brainer,” he said. She went back to school while working for the MBTA, eventually receiving her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Framingham State.

In her 35-year nursing career, she worked at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Tufts Medical Center, and Boston Medical Center, according to her family. She was working at New England Baptist at the time of her death.

“It was something she always wanted because it was always something she truly loved and wanted to do, which was to help people,” her son said of her passion for the job.

In her spare time, the 63-year-old enjoyed going to casinos and spending time with her family, including her three children and eight grandchildren.

“She’d be the one to supply the whole family with everything they need,” her son said of the way his mother cooked and prepared for family gatherings. “If any of her sisters ever needed something, she always took care of them. Any time her kids needed anything, she bent over backwards — her grandchild, bent over backwards. She was just amazing.”

Taldon said he and his family can’t say for sure whether the 63-year-old contracted coronavirus while on the job, but he noted that when the pandemic began, she “stopped doing everything,” practicing extreme caution because her sister, who has COPD, lived with her.

Taldon, who also works at New England Baptist, noted the hospital was careful in screening patients when they came in. And being a nurse, his mother understood clearly the dangers of the virus early on, he said.

When it was possible, the 63-year-old took opportunities at work to “down-staff,” taking time off when she could to create less of a chance that she would bring the virus home.

She was never too concerned about getting sick herself, her son said, saying she knew that “at the end of the day, she was a frontline worker.”

She just did all the things that she needed to do to be cautious about it when she had to deal with unknown factors, before they had enough tests and stuff,” he said. “So she was cautious about it. But I don’t think she was really worried about getting it herself because, once again, this is what she loved to do. She loved to help people. And that was her job, so she was going to do her job. It was more concern about her loved ones getting it.”

Rose Taldon with her son, Thomas. —Courtesy of Taldon family

Taldon last saw his mother at work, the first week of April — a Saturday. By the middle of the next week, when they talked on the phone, she sounded drained.

I’ve never heard my mother that tired, that drained,” he said.

She thought it was the extra time off, her body slowing down with the change in her schedule.

But within a day, Taldon got a call from his father that she’d asked to be taken to the hospital.

A first coronavirus test came back inconclusive. Other than her extreme fatigue, she didn’t have any other symptoms, and, initially on IV fluids, she started to feel a little better.

But, in a pattern that has become familiar with the trajectory of the virus, the situation began to change at a rapid pace. Her vitals began to drop, prompting doctors to advise putting her on a ventilator just to give her lungs a rest.

Her second test came back positive. Proning her — placing her on her stomach to help her breath — seemed to help for a short time. When her stats began to fall again, she was put on a ventilator.

“When they put her on a ventilator, to all of us, to my sister, my father, my brother, and me, it was just to help her,” Taldon said. “It was just to give her lungs a rest, we didn’t know that it was getting that bad.”

She’d gone to Beth Israel on a Wednesday — by Saturday the family received a call that her organs were starting to fail. The hospital allowed Taldon, his father, and brother to visit her that day.

“Later that night she got worse and the doctor called my sister, and she let my sister be on the phone and just speak to my mother through her phone, even though my mother was ventilated and probably couldn’t hear,” he said.

The 63-year-old died early Sunday morning, April 12.

Following her passing, Taldon said it has been bittersweet to learn just how many lives his mother touched. Hearing how much she meant to people, even to those more distantly connected to her, has been a comfort.

“It didn’t matter what you did to her or what situation you were in and how much she had or didn’t have, if she could give it, she was going to give it,” Taldon said. “She was going to make sure all her family and friends — everybody that she could help — was helped. … She was a person that would give her all, and she did. She gave her life for it.”

David Ferranti. —Courtesy of Susan Ferranti

Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, David Ferranti graduated from Belmont High School in 1978 and went on to work as the clinical equipment co-ordinator at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton for almost 42 years.

During the course of his life, David always wanted to help people and put others before himself, his wife of 30 years, Susan, wrote in an email to Boston.com.

When the pandemic began, she said the family was concerned for his health. His job meant he was always going in and out of rooms at the hospital, handling equipment and cleaning it.

“We knew he was working on the front lines at the hospital, but that was his life and [he] loved helping people,” she wrote.

The 60-year-old always went “above and beyond” to help others — both inside and outside the walls of the hospital, she said.

“He always wanted to bring smiles,” Ferranti wrote. “He felt working in the hospital was his way to help others, make sure they had the equipment that they really needed to get well. He would stress himself out at times always wanting to make sure that people had what they needed when they needed it. He was so detailed about his job, making sure the nurses and people had what was needed.”

A hard worker, he covered so much ground during work, she said, he would walk “miles a day.”

In his spare time, he loved to work in his garden, planting flowers, taking walks in nature, and spending time with his family. A “history buff,” he was known for making meatballs and sauce, the way he learned from his mother.

“It was always so good,” Ferranti wrote of her husband’s dish.

In addition to his spouse, the 60-year-old is survived by their son and his parents.

“We are still so devastated,” Ferranti wrote.

The frontline worker’s death was the second one the family suffered from COVID-19, following shortly after the death of his aunt, his wife said.

“It has been a devastating experience,” she wrote. “It hurts to know that he won’t be here for things that might happen in the future. My son and his wife if they ever have children, God willing, he won’t be here to see them. He won’t be here for birthdays or Christmas or any holidays, and it is breaking our hearts. He is so greatly missed.”

Cindy Locklear, 62, of Northborough
July 15, 1957 — May 11, 2020

Cindy Locklear. —Courtesy of Kandi Oliveira

The word “Mom” is etched on the front of the necklace Kandi Oliveira wears in memory of her mother, Cindy Locklear.

The heart-shaped locket bears Locklear’s fingerprint, with some of her ashes tucked inside. “Forever in Our Hearts” is inscribed on the back.

“That’s what I always wear,” Oliveira told Boston.com.

The 62-year-old died in May, the day after Mother’s Day, after she contracted the coronavirus while working in the COVID-19 unit at Marlborough Hills Rehabilitation & Health Care Center.

“My mom was a people person, she loved working with people, she loved working, obviously, with elderly people,” Oliveira said. “She’d been a nurse since 1987 I believe — so forever.”

Oliveira recalled growing up how she’d take the bus after school to the nursing home where her mother was working. She’d snack on cookies and juice while she waited for her mother’s shift to end, sitting with the residents and her mom as she worked.

“She liked taking care of people,” she said of her mom. “She liked making a difference in their life. My mother did that her whole life; she loved to take care of everybody else.”

Seeing her mother in her element influenced Oliveira, who ended up becoming a certified nursing assistant and worked with Locklear at the same facility for a little while.

Her mother, she learned, was just as caring with her fellow employees as her patients.

“If she could do it, she’d help you,” Oliveira said. “She didn’t care if it was doing something that per se wasn’t her job. She’d still do it, as long as the patient was happy and taken care of.”

In her free time, Locklear enjoyed going to the gym and spending time with her nine grandchildren. When the pandemic hit, she volunteered to work on the floor of the Marlborough facility dedicated to residents with COVID-19.

Oliveira said she was concerned about her mother working in the unit. It also meant that the mother and daughter couldn’t have contact since Oliveira has lupus and is immunocompromised.

But Locklear was determined, her daughter said, despite her worries that the facility didn’t have enough PPE.

She wanted to be there for her patients.

“She kept working and working and working, without a day off, she still kept going,” Oliveira said. “Because she’s like, ‘They need me.’”

She worked in the unit until she became sick and physically couldn’t anymore, her daughter said.

Oliveira was allowed to visit Locklear in the ICU on Mother’s Day to say goodbye. She died the next day.

“She literally sacrificed herself for others,” her daughter said.

The facility, Marlborough Hills Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, didn’t have enough personal protective equipment, Oliveira said. She told the Globe in May that she reported the facility to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the nursing home ended up paying for Locklear’s funeral expenses.

Since the 62-year-old’s passing, Oliveira said she’s received a number of messages from the families of her mother’s patients and many of her colleagues. The messages of appreciation for the care her mother provided have brought some solace, she said.

Her mother never saw any choice when it came to taking care of her patients.

“It’s, ‘Either I do it or nobody will,’” Oliveira said of the dedication of her mother and other nurses. “It’s just like your child, you would never leave your child uncared for, sick or not. You’ve got to get up and do it, and that’s how she thought. They’re a big, happy family in her heart. She treated everybody like they were family.”

She had a nurse’s heart, she said.

“She just wanted people to know she loved her job,” Oliveira said of her mother. “And she died doing what she loved.”


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