FREDERICKSBURG — There’s been no shortage of terrible stories about COVID-19 losses, but they don’t get much more tragic than this.
A Stafford County couple in their 40s contracted the virus and died within about two weeks of each other, leaving behind five children and one grandson.
Kevin and Misty Mitchem were friends from their days at Woodbridge High School. They married 17 years ago and had four children: Riley, 17; Leah, 14, and twins Taylor and Aiden, 11. Kevin also had one daughter, Angel, from a previous relationship; she’s 22 and has a son, Lincoln, who will turn 2 in November.
In the wake of their parents’ deaths, the four younger children have gone to South Carolina to live with an aunt and uncle, said Mike Mitchem, Kevin’s brother in Spotsylvania County.
“Both our families have been turned upside down,” he said on Wednesday. “The kids are the main thing. His oldest daughter just had a son, and I’m sure she wanted him to get close with his grandfather, and that’s not gonna happen now.”
Mike Mitchem said that as best he can remember — because recent weeks have been a blur — his brother developed a cough last month and visited an urgent care in Stafford County, and he was sent home with cold medicine. When he didn’t feel better in a few days, he returned and tested positive for COVID. He was told to go home and rest.
A few days later, Misty Mitchem, who had diabetes, started feeling ill. She was quickly sent from the urgent care to Stafford Hospital, then rushed to Mary Washington Hospital, which has treated the bulk of COVID-19 patients in the Fredericksburg region.
It was a Wednesday when family members were told that Misty Mitchem wasn’t able to breathe on her own and had been put on a ventilator — and her kidneys were functioning at only 50%. By the next day, Kevin Mitchem was admitted to Mary Washington, and family members were told that Misty Mitchem might not make it another 24 hours.
“Within five hours, she was gone,” Mike Mitchem said, adding that it was only a few days between her first symptom and her death. “It really came out of nowhere.”
Misty Nicole Newton Mitchem died Sept. 23. She was 46. She had been trained as a medical transcriptionist, and her obituary described her as a devoted mother and “one of the most caring and loving most people ever met.”
Her husband didn’t have any health-related issues before he got COVID, his brother said.
“He never smoked, never drank, didn’t do drugs, didn’t have diabetes, wasn’t overweight, was a heavy equipment operator, did a lot of highway work,” Mike Mitchem said. “He worked every day. He was always working, always outside, always doing something. Very active.”
“My brother was healthy. He was still pretty much young and he had everything to live for,” Mike Mitchem added. “He had five kids and a grandson, and now all of them have lost him. It’s hard on my parents. They’re 73, and my mom said your kids are not supposed to die before you.”
Kevin Mitchem’s decline was more gradual than his wife’s. He seemed to be improving at one point, and the family got their hopes up, only to discover the respiratory disease had done irreparable damage to his lungs.
Kevin Lee Mitchem died on Oct. 8. He was 48.
Amid the grief, Mike Mitchem said he’s dealing with another emotion.
“Part of our pain is anger,” he said. “Anger because people are still not getting the vaccine. If you think about it, you need to have certain vaccines before you can even go to school. What’s the big deal about this one?”
Mike Mitchem said his brother and sister-in-law had not been vaccinated, even though family members who had been inoculated encouraged them to get their shots.
“They’d just been leery. They were going off what they’ve been hearing and reading on the internet,” he said.
Like other who have been featured in news reports, Kevin Mitchem felt remorse at the end, his brother said. He called his mother, told her he loved her and said he was sorry he hadn’t gotten vaccinated, said Mike Mitchem, who was with her at the time.
She told her son that was in the past and to get better and then get the vaccine. But that day never came.
Rachael Rhodes, the daughter-in-law of Mike Mitchem, said she encouraged family members to get vaccinated, the same way she tries to educate her patients about the importance of vaccines. She’s a nurse practitioner who specializes in family medicine and lives in Spotsylvania.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to be a medical provider right now with all the misinformation being spread online,” she wrote in an email. “It’s become very discouraging to hear reasons why vaccines are being declined by patients/people. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even worth the discussion anymore because it’s completely unrelated to anything medical or scientific.”
Still, she’s saddened by all the preventable deaths and the impact they have on others, including the Mitchems.
“My heart breaks for their children, who are going through this terrible situation. The loss of one parent is difficult enough, but to lose both parents within a short time span is devastating,” she said.
Mike Mitchem has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the children. Search for “Helping the 5 orphaned children left behind” on GoFundMe.com.
Mike Mitchem plans to split whatever is raised equally between the five children. Their aunt in South Carolina has said she’ll start a college fund for them. As of Wednesday night, more than $7,000 has been raised.
“It’s not a lot. It’s not going to get them all through school, but it’s a start,” Mike Mitchem said.