AKRON, Ohio — A vigil held Friday morning outside Giant Eagle on East Waterloo Road in Akron honored longtime employee John Romano who died after a three-week battle with COVID-19.
Romano, 59, was remembered as a friendly, outgoing stock clerk who worked in the frozen food department. His family said he enjoyed gardening, taught himself how to play guitar and was passionate about the Cleveland Browns.
During the vigil, his brother, Paul Romano, was presented with a Browns Football signed by Bernie Kosar. Relatives were also given cards and letters from co-workers, along with bags of potato chips and root beer-- Romano's favorite snack.
"It was just very touching to see how people cared about him as he cared about his job," said his cousin, Terry Hepfl.
John was scheduled to receive a plaque at the end of November, recognizing 35 years with the store, but he never got to see it.
"I just want to tell people it's [the cornoavirus] for real. You don't know until it hits your own family," said Paul.
In late October, John began experiencing a nagging cough. It worsened over the next few days and he was taken to Summa Akron City Hospital on Nov. 3.
"We were all praying that we was going to get better," Hepfl said.
But in the early morning hours of Nov. 4, he was moved to the intensive care unit and was put on a ventilator. His family was unable to visit him for three weeks.
"I think that's probably the most difficult part about families staying away," Hepfl said.
John also developed pneumonia and never got off the ventilator until comfort care measures were taken. He died on Nov. 24.
"The loss of John and the COVID has affected plenty of people," Paul said. "He brought a lot of smiles to a lot of people."
During the pandemic, there has been much talk about frontline workers, such as doctors, nurses, paramedics and police, facing an increased risk of exposure to the virus.
Grocery store workers, who have continued to work during the crisis, could also be at risk. However, John's family stressed they don't know where he contracted the virus.
"We don't know. I still don't know to this day," Paul said.
Paul believes their mother contracted the virus from John, but she has since recovered.
The family understands the pain that so many others are feeling by losing a loved one to the coronavirus and they hope that by sharing their story, others will pay attention and take precautions.
"It just boggles my mind what's going on here with this virus," Paul said.