We Lost Walt: A COVID-19 Death in Erie County

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(WIVB) – For 50 years – half a century – Valerie Monahan shared morning coffee with her husband Walt. But last March, Walter Monahan – husband, father, grandfather, community volunteer, and Vietnam Veteran became just the second person in Erie County to die of COVID-19.

“I’ve had so many friends say: ‘Where do you think he got it.’  We have no idea. None, ” says Valerie Monahan.

Walt came down with what they thought was a bad cold or bronchitis in the early days of the pandemic. He was extremely tired, coughing and his head ached.

“I said, ‘Honey, look at your hands. You’re blue.’ And I don’t know why I knew it but I thought, he’s not getting enough oxygen.” 

What followed was a 9-1-1 call, an ambulance ride to Kenmore Mercy Hospital, and a family nightmare that fills Valerie with anger when people call COVID-19 a hoax.

“They haven’t walked down the hallways to go say goodbye to your loved one,” says Valerie, “and seen room after room after room of the exact same thing. And that was darkened rooms of people on ventilators…and that’s all we saw.”

Valerie never saw Walt conscious again. Just hours after his trip to the hospital, he was attached to a ventilator in a medically-induced coma.  He spent his 74th birthday that way.  His wife, daughter, and son were allowed just moments at his bedside.

“The three of us got to see him the night before he passed away and we weren’t sure then if we were saying goodbye.”

Goodbye came the next day – March 25th – when the ventilator was turned off.  There was nothing more doctors could do.

“They were just desperate. They were just desperate. As horrible as it was for us, I had so much empathy for them.”

COVID-19 claimed the life of a man who had been such a great swimmer in this youth that he was invited to try-out for the Olympics.

A man who joined the Navy and spent two combat tours on a destroyer in Vietnam.

A man who met the love of his life when they both worked at the Pentagon.

She still blushes remembering how handsome he was.

“The Chief came and brought him to my desk and introduced him,” says Valerie, “and my face must have belied my impression because the Chief said, ‘Valerie give him a chance to unpack his bags before you go after him.’ And I just wanted to crawl under the desk.  It was awful,’” she laughed.

From that light moment, life and love blossomed for Valerie and Walt. They spent decades together raising their two children and doting on their grandchildren.

In retirement, Walt truly enjoyed driving a school bus, delivering Meals on Wheels, and especially his hours spent as a volunteer docent at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park.

“Oh, he loved it,” Valerie says with a smiles. “Who wouldn’t? A bunch of old sailors, hanging out on a ship, and getting to tell complete strangers all about the ship, all about the adventures. Oh my gosh, he loved it. Yes!”

The silence that surrounds Valerie now – and her anger – have moved her to speak out.

She sees people demonstrating against the idea of wearing a mask and taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – and she wants to spread truth.

“I mean if people can even imagine what that feels like – that your husband of 50 years is gone and you get to see people says it’s a hoax and it’s going to disappear on November 4th?”

Valerie says she doesn’t want Walt’s death to be in vain.  She asks everyone to do what they can to stop the killer that stole the life of Walter Monahan.

“When we leave the house, we put our shoes on. I don’t understand why when we leave the house people won’t put a mask on. We put our shoes on, our coats on, and our masks on. And we save each other’s lives if we can.”

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