A plea from the heart

Published 1:16 am Saturday, October 2, 2021

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For Heather Smith, the call for COVID-19 vaccinations is personal.

Her father, Leroy Gardner, passed away recently due to complications from COVID-19. He was not vaccinated.

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“I feel strongly had dad been vaccinated he would be here with us today,” said daughter Heather Smith, who shared her father’s story during health provider Ballad Health’s weekly update on Wednesday.

Gardner, 61, was a youth league and high school baseball umpire. He and his wife both contracted COVID-19 after being exposed at their place of employment. He had not received the vaccine, but his wife had been vaccinated two days before being diagnosed.

Smith’s 93-year-old grandmother and 24-year-old brother also contracted the virus, and her grandmother, who had been vaccinated, recovered fully.

Smith’s father, who had been in the Army more than 40 years ago, developed a reaction to a flu vaccine that sent him to the ICU. Doctors told him then to avoid the flu vaccine moving forward, and he never took another one, Smith said.

So when the COVID-19 vaccine was released, her father chose not to receive it. “He did not believe in the vaccine’s safety and also had some belief that COVID was a hoax,” said Smith. “For a lot of you in this room and watching know that there is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 and relate it to the flu, which it is not. Because that information was out there, my dad bought into that belief.”

Because of her father’s death, Smith is speaking out about the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.

With tears dribbling from the corner of her eye, Smith said watching someone suffer with COVID-19 is “horrible.”

“It is a horrible, horrible sight to see someone you love die from COVID-19,” she said. “We were fortunate to spend some time with my dad during his last days on earth.

“One of the things that stick out in my mind about my dad, on his literal death bed on oxygen and a rebreather, he reached up and grabbed my brother by the collar and said, ‘Get the shot.’ That has left a permanent impact on my heart and mind.”

Smith and her family feel so strongly about vaccination since her father’s death that in Garland’s obituary the family asked that no flowers be sent for the funeral but for everyone to go and get vaccinated.

“Our plea to you as a family is to please get vaccinated,” Smith said. “I do not want COVID-19 to be a thief to you or your family.”