Polk County family devastated after mother dies, father clings to life after testing positive for COVID-19

Norma Reyes, 52, was a loving mom and a special teacher recognized for her dedication. 

"Just her love for the kids and her love for the community was special," said her 21-year-old son, E.J. Reyes. "She taught Hispanic kids that didn’t know how to speak English."

Reyes taught at Purcell Elementary in Mulberry. In 2012 she was named the School-Related State Employee of The Year.

She shared her final lessons from a bed in Lakeland Regional Hospital. For weeks, through much of July and August, she posted on Facebook about her fight against COVID-19. Some days she was down and some days she was up. 

"Going back to her old self, messing around and goofing around with the nurses," said her 18-year-old daughter, Bryana Reyes. "But the next day she felt tired. She wanted to sleep the whole time." 

Things got worse when Norma Reyes’ husband, Elio, was hospitalized in July. For a time, they were in a room together, fighting. 

"COVID is really taking a toll on this family," said E.J. Reyes.

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E.J. Reyes says his parents didn’t get the vaccine. When it first became available, they felt there were unanswered questions about the shot.

"They wanted to know more about the effects of the vaccine and whether or not it would work. But it was just too late," said E.J. Reyes.

There were underlying health conditions. Norma Reyes was diagnosed with emphysema and Elio Reyes had heart issues. Both had struggled with diabetes. 

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"We are just a traditional blue-collar family who gave back to the community, worked hard for everything that we got, and never asked anybody for anything," said E.J. Reyes. "And this COVID, when it hit, it hit hard." 

Norma Reyes died last Friday. Elio Reyes continues to battle COVID-19 at Lakeland Regional Hospital.

LINK: Friends have set up a gofundme to help with expenses. For more information visit https://gofund.me/a13d96ab.

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