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Hello Idaho: Boise woman finds support in online group after losing her husband to coronavirus

Sandy Almaraz suffered from overwhelming grief after her husband, Robert, died from COVID-19. But she found critical support in a Facebook group for survivors.

BOISE, Idaho — More than 20,000 Idahoans now know what it's like to have COVID-19. They've been diagnosed with it. And sadly, more than 200 have died due to complications caused by the virus.

The loss is sometimes sudden and often isolated with family members unable to be by their loved one's side.

The emotional pain and grief were overwhelming for Sandy Almaraz, a Boise woman who recently lost her husband to the coronavirus.

She shared her very personal story with KTVB for our Hello Idaho series, with the hope of helping others who are dealing with the stress, anxiety and grief caused by COVID-19.

"He was a great husband - a great family man," Sandy said about her late husband Robert. "He loved his children. His grandchildren.

"People loved him," she added. "He was just great, just a great person. I'm just happy that I got to know him."

Robert Almaraz lost his battle with COVID-19 on July 20. He was just 61 years old.

"He was having sore throats and coughing a little bit," Sandy said. "He was very fatigued and [had] trouble breathing. But he figured since he didn't have a fever, he didn't have COVID."

Robert was admitted to St. Luke's in Meridian the day after Father's Day. Sandy's world was turned upside down. She also had the coronavirus.

"I had totally different [symptoms] from one day to the next," she said. "From feeling perfect one minute, the next minute I'm like falling on the floor with chills and just not feeling well. By nighttime, I had the chills and the fever and fatigue.

"I was trying so hard to get well in the meantime," Sandy added. "I was home because I wasn't admitted into the hospital, and I was trying so hard to get better for when he was released."

Sandy and Robert were together for 42 years. But when Robert was hospitalized, all they could do was text each other.

"The day that [the texts] did stop, he wasn't replying," Sandy said. "And that's when we knew. We knew that he wasn't going to be able to respond to us anymore."

Robert was put on a respirator. And on his final day, some family members were finally allowed to see him in person.

"St. Luke's in Meridian actually let me, because I had COVID, and my son had COVID and recovered, [so] they let us go in there," Sandy said.

The couple's other children were not allowed in to see him.

"They did Facetime," Sandy said. "My children were able to see my husband as they pulled the respirator off. So we were able to hold his hand before he passed."

Through it all, Sandy found comfort and the support she so desperately needed through a Facebook group called "Covid-19 Recovered - Survivors." She now wants others to know about it - to know there is help available and survivors are not alone.

"People don't know where to turn to because when you've gone through this," she said. "It's really hard. You don't know where to go with your questions.

"When I would talk to the doctors, I was confused," she added. "I didn't know a lot of the hospital things that were going on. And so I was able to learn some things from this group that I joined because they're very supportive. There's no political. It's all about people that are going through the same symptoms. The same things that I was going through. The same things my husband is going through."

Sandy doesn't know who started the Facebook support group, which has more than 30,000 members from all across the country. But she will never forget the love she's received from strangers she now calls friends.

"Now I can help them as far as, they'll ask me well what was your symptoms, what was your husband's symptoms," she said. "You don't feel alone in there because they're all in the same situation. You're all in the same group."

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