BRANDON, Fla. - He is one of 12 people to die from COVID-19 in Hillsborough County. But the family of Dennis Bello says he was much more than a number or statistic.
The 74-year-old leaves behind a wife, three children, 12 grandkids, and a huge impact on the community.
“Everybody loved his hugs I wish that he was here to hug me right now,” said Frances Bello.
Frances and Dennis were soulmates and married for 30 years.
“Dennis was one of the most loving, thoughtful, generous men I’ve ever met, there’s no one else like him,” Frances said.
She says he was the ultimate family man, always putting his three children, and 12 grandchildren, above everything.
Besides being diabetic, loved ones tell us Dennis was strong and in good health.
“He could run circles around people, he stood on his feet all day long, for hours on end, he could walk the parks with no problem, he really was very healthy,” said his son, Duane Bello.
The 74-year-old was also creative and talented. He ran a flower shop in the past, and for more than two decades, has owned the Dennis Et Al beauty salon in Brandon.
“He was a hairdresser for a very long time, owned several different shops, and all his clients loved him,” Duane said.
“He had such an irresistible smile and his laugh was just, you knew when he laughed, his laugh was so funny,” said daughter Jennifer Bello.
Those happy memories are helping Frances push through the pain. She’s been quarantined since Dennis got sick.
“I couldn’t hug anybody, they couldn’t hug me,” she explained. “I couldn’t see anybody, and it was just horrible, this disease is just insidious, and takes our loved ones.”
It is not clear how Dennis contracted COVID-19, but his health went downhill quickly.
“When the EMS came and he was on the gurney headed toward the ambulance, that’s the last time I saw him,” Frances said. “I couldn’t see him when he was in the hospital, I couldn’t talk to him, and it was six days of agony.”
She says Dennis fought hard, but in the end, the virus won. He passed away on April 4 with only the nurses in the hospital room.
“They put a phone up to his ear and I did say goodbye that way, but I wanted to hold him, hold his hand and tell him that I love him, and I had to do that over the phone,” Frances said.
The family is devastated, and having to deal with the heartbreak without being together.
“Normally when something like this happens, everyone would come together and everybody would be able to hug and give hugs and get hugs, and all we can do right now is talk on the phone and wish we were there,” said Duane.
The family is planning to have a memorial service and a huge party -- one Dennis would have loved -- once they can all be together. Frances says she can’t wait to be able to hug her family members.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know
AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com
Map of known COVID-19 cases:
MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map