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‘He was happy...to lifeless’: Family hopes husband’s COVID-19 death encourages vaccinations

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 7:21 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Chris Peterson’s last birthday was August 4. He turned 35.

He had a Labor Day weekend trip planned with his wife for their 14th wedding anniversary to Marco Island, Florida, that he was looking forward to.

Instead of getting ready for that, Chris’ father-in-law spent Wednesday getting a refund for that trip for his daughter, Danielle Peterson.

Chris died on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19. He was unvaccinated.

Danielle is now planning arrangements with the funeral home for her husband. It’s a devastating chapter of her family’s life she wants to share to help others make the decision, she believes, will save lives before it’s too late.

“I want Chris’ legacy to save lives,” she told WMBF News in an emotional interview with her two daughters. “And if him having to give the ultimate sacrifice to save millions, that’s what I want him to be remembered for. Because he was 35, he had no health issues whatsoever. Never went to the doctor, and then in two weeks he was happy, in the pool to lifeless.”

The couple’s children also reflected on their loss.

“My daddy was so nice and he was so strong,” said 10-year-old Lilah, one of their daughters. “He didn’t deserve it...and it’s hard for me because he hasn’t been sick like this, ever. And whenever I found out, I got really sad. I just prayed every day and I was really hoping that he wouldn’t go, but he did.”

The family said Chris loved the Washington Capitals, his backyard, grilling, Disney World, Disney movies and music.

But most of all, he loved his family.

“We’re originally from DC. That’s where we met,” Danielle said. “He was probably the biggest Capitals fan you could ever imagine. Any Washington sports, whether it be the football team, the baseball team...but the Capitals was something he really, really enjoyed. We would go and watch games. His birthday was August 4, and we got him his very first official jersey. He never even got to wear it.”

Danielle, Lilah and 13-year-old Charlotte all wore Capitals shirts when they spoke to WMBF News on Wednesday. They said an anonymous person sent them to their home.

The shirts say ‘#ChrisStrong’ and displayed Capitals player Alex Ovechkin’s number on the back. Ironically, the shirts arrived the morning after Chris’ death. Danielle said Ovechkin was her husband’s favorite player.

MORE | FIND OUT WHERE YOU CAN GET A COVID-19 VACCINE

Hockey also brought Chris closer to his children, too. Lilah said she shared the love of hockey with her dad, as he loved cheerleading with his daughters.

“He got them into hockey and he got into their cheer so much that he would pull out their rulebook and go to the coach and be like ‘listen, we’ve got so many people on this team, we need six stunt groups to maximize our score,’” Danielle said with a laugh. “His girls were his world.”

Danielle said Chris began not feeling well shortly after his birthday. He went to the doctor and was told he had a sinus infection. She said he was not tested for COVID-19 by the doctor.

Chris was then sent home with a Z-Pak, and began to get worse.

“He took Tylenol and stuff and said he had body aches and a headache. And then, Wednesday, I felt him and he was really hot. He said he had chest pain and a cough and he said ‘I just don’t feel good, Danielle.’ He never calls off and he called off Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. He got tested [for COVID-19] and it was positive,” Danielle said.

Danielle works in the health field and had equipment from a friend to check his blood oxygen level. She said it was a 47 that day.

“Anything under 90 is not good,” she said. “When he saw that, he started crying because he knew it wasn’t good and I immediately called the ambulance and they hooked him up. They gave him as much oxygen as he could possibly get and it wasn’t going up,” she said.

When Chris was admitted to the hospital she said he texted her how tired he was and that he was focusing on his breathing. He told her he wasn’t going to stop fighting.

He was intubated the next day.

“I answered the phone and it was the hospital. They said ‘I’m with Chris. He wants to talk to you. And we need you to talk to him about being intubated because that’s the only way to save his life.’ So we all three were able to talk to him. It was like 2:30 in the morning and we told him we loved him and he was scared, but he said he wasn’t going to stop fighting. And he never did. That was the last time I heard his voice,” Danielle said.

She said his entire body shut down from his brain to his kidneys. Despite friends, family and strangers rooting for him, sharing “#ChrisStrong” across social media, he died from COVID-19 Tuesday night.

Danielle has been fully vaccinated since March, but also tested positive for COVID after Chris. She said she wasn’t nearly as ill.

“I want people to know that I only got vaccinated because of where I worked at first to make it easier,” Danielle said. “So they would say ‘OK she’s vaccinated, she’s safe.’ I didn’t realize how vicious this virus is, and I believe that the vaccine saved my life and I believe that’s why it totally obliterated my husband’s body. His entire body shut down, his lungs, his kidneys, everything. He was so hypoxic they didn’t even think his brain was working right. And he was not vaccinated because Chris is very headstrong. And he believed it wasn’t good or whatnot. I was more willing to just have it. And I’m pretty sure if he was alive today he would get vaccinated.”

Charlotte said she’s going to get vaccinated when she can, while Danielle has gained thousands of followers on Instagram while documenting her family’s journey. She’s hoping to encourage others to get vaccinated so no one else has to share this experience.

Danielle said not only have her parents gotten vaccinated in honor of Chris but strangers across the world.

“All over the world, they said they went and got the first vaccine because of Chris’ story,” she said.

Danielle and the girls said this is a silver lining they are finding during this nightmare.

The girls are spending time in Chris’ oasis, the family pool he designed surrounded by the flowers he planted and his grill. They can’t believe just weeks ago he was happy, healthy and swimming.

As for the Capitals gear, they’ll keep wearing it proudly. The family says they never imagined this would happen to them, and hope others can learn from their heartbreak.

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