‘A beautiful soul’: Remembering Americans lost to COVID-19

One year ago, the first known coronavirus-related death in the United States occurred in Santa Clara County, California.

Patricia Dowd, 57, had reported flu-like symptoms and died abruptly at home on February 6, 2020. Her death was not initially linked to the coronavirus, but in April US media reported that Dowd had died from COVID-19.

In the past 12 months, more than 26 million COVID-19 infections have been reported across the US. The number of new infections and hospitalisations recorded each day have fallen in recent weeks and the government has accelerated its vaccination programme, but the the discovery of new variants of the virus are fuelling concerns about its continued spread. Many hospitals around the US are stretched to full capacity.

The US has recorded the highest death toll in the world, surpassing 450,000 this week. On February 4, 2021, the seven-day average for COVID-19 related deaths was 2,997 deaths per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project. President Joe Biden has warned that the total number of deaths would pass half a million in February.

The people profiled below represent a small fraction of the lives lost to the pandemic.

They include a gifted engineer who helped pioneer the technology for laptop computers, a psychologist who dedicated his life to helping those suffering from mental health and substance issues, a speech pathologist who left a lasting impact on everyone he met, a respiratory specialist who risked her own life to save others during the pandemic, and a lawyer who dedicated his life to fighting for justice and equality. These are their stories.

Araceli “Cely” Danilewicz, a native of the Philippines and a longtime resident of Passaic, New Jersey, took great pride in being a grandmother and considered the light of her life to be her two-year-old granddaughter, Adriana.


When Danilewicz was not spending time with her granddaughter, she enjoyed playing bingo and being a doting cat mom. Additionally, she was an active member of her prayer group and was always present to pray the rosary each month.

Danilewicz entered hospital on April 14 and passed away on April 30 from complications due to COVID-19. She was 73.

In addition to her granddaughter, Danilewicz is survived by her husband of 29 years, Miroslaw; her son Carlo; her daughter Cecile; and her son-in-law Carmine.

Cecile remembered her mother’s courage, strength and bravery throughout her life.

“I describe my mom most as brave,” she said. “Brave because she left her country without knowing a single person in the United States. During her sickness to COVID, it was even proven further how brave she really was. She was alone in her fight because we couldn’t be with her in the hospital but I know she fought it bravely.”

Dean Pryor Perkins, 65, TexasThomas A Kirk, Jr, PhD dedicated his life to helping individuals who struggled with mental health and substance abuse.


Dr Kirk obtained his PhD in experimental psychology and began his career as a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he met his soulmate and wife of 42 years, Janet.

Kirk spent most of his career helping struggling families and individuals in Cheshire, Connecticut. Among his many accomplishments, Kirk was appointed as deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), where he was later promoted to commissioner from 2000 until his retirement in 2009.

Under Kirk’s leadership, Connecticut, along with Ohio, was named the best state for mental health systems in the United States by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in 2006.

“It wasn’t just a job for Tom, it was really a personal career. And because he saw losses, especially our sister Marie who died of hepatitis at the age of 30, Tom became even more committed to helping others,” noted his sister Tricia Kirk, a Benedictine sister.

“We still get notes from people that he had worked with and befriended. Tom was a ‘connector,’ bringing people together, which I have to say is part of who we are as the Kirk family,” she added.

Kirk was a loving husband, brother and father. He shared a special bond with his siblings Clare and Tricia who say he will be remembered for his huge heart.

Tricia remembers how Tom was always there for her when she became prioress of her religious community.

“He would call every week, usually Friday night. And, you know, he would be my advice person, greatest support, just [a] really wonderful man and great brother.”

One of Tom’s most ardent supporters was his wife, Janet. They married in 1977 and were inseparable.

Janet, who had lung cancer, passed away nine days before Tom after experiencing COVID-19 complications. Janet was “the first person in their Connecticut town to pass away from the virus,” Jessica said. Tom passed away on April 9, 2020.

“They were close in life and they were close in death. But to lose both of them at the same time was just tragic,” Tricia stated.

Vi Lieu, 44, CaliforniaIf there were only one word to describe Vi Lieu, it would be “selfless.”


“He was one hundred percent of the time a giver and someone who is just so, so very kind to other people,” his brother Theo Lieu fondly remembered.

Born to a Vietnamese family that emigrated to the United States when Vi was a small child, he worked hard to achieve the “American Dream” for his family in California.

“Vi and my husband’s family were immigrants and refugees, so they came here to America with very little, like almost nothing. And so Vi worked tirelessly. He was extremely hard working to make sure that his family had everything that they [needed],” noted Theresa Lieu, Vi’s sister-in-law.

Regardless of what challenges life threw at Lieu, his family always came first. His children were his pride and joy and he would drop everything in an instant to help out those closest to him.

“He, at all expense and at all costs, focused on his family and his kids,” Theo noted.

Although family came above all else for Lieu, he will also be remembered for his sensational sense of humour and love of sports and R&B music.

Lieu was ill with COVID-19 for about a month before he passed away due to complications on December 27, 2020 at the age of 44.

During this time, Lieu was diagnosed with pneumonia caused by COVID and was treated with steroids and Remdesivir. On December 20, Lieu was rushed to the ICU and placed on a ventilator, where he remained for a week until his heart ultimately gave out.

Despite gradually getting sicker and weaker over his four-week hospital stay, Lieu never let it show.

“He didn’t show it. We would FaceTime him every day with the kids, and he would always muster up a smile and he would talk to them and he would sort of joke around with them, which is who he was,” Theo remembered.

Lieu is survived by his parents Thomas and Linh Lieu; his sister Amy Lieu Neumann; his brother Theo Lieu; his wife Chai Saechao; his three children, Lana, Ellie, and Samuel Lieu; and his two stepchildren, Kaitlyn and Annabelle.

“The legacy and what I think I want people to remember about him is how much he loved his kids,” said Theo.

“We would make fun of him and call him the Indian Godfather because he barely smiled – he was [a] serious business, to the point [type of person]. So it was much more entertaining to joke around with him,” his daughter Jessica Gaffar fondly remembered.

Gaffar had worked for the New York Housing Authority, but was making the most of his life post-retirement. Every winter, he would take a trip back to Bangladesh to have a reunion with his college buddies.

Gaffar was passionate about classic films, a huge fan of Tiger Woods and loved learning how to cook new meals.

“Even from when he was in Bangladesh, he was very big on movies like Hollywood, like those Academy Award-winning movies,” Jessica said.

Despite Jessica’s initial reservations, Gaffar travelled back to Bangladesh on February 21, 2020, as the coronavirus was spreading around the world.

By March 1, he was feeling ill. A diabetic for 50 years, Gaffar’s blood sugar suddenly skyrocketed, leading him to check in to a hospital.

There, doctors did a chest x-ray and found that his lungs looked as if they had been battling pneumonia for over a year.

“He had just [seen] a doctor in January, [and his] lungs were clear,” Jessica noted.

Gaffar suffered a massive heart attack on March 3 and was transferred to a different hospital.

A political junkie, the first question he asked when Jessica and her brother arrived in Bangladesh shortly thereafter was “who won the Democratic nomination?”

“When we told him Biden won, he had a big smile on his face, and that was the last smile alive he gave,” Jessica said.

On March 14, Gaffar suffered a second heart attack. Jessica recited the Kalima, an Islamic oath over his body three times. On the third recitation, his heart stopped, and Gaffar passed away an hour later.

Due to the raging COVID-19 crisis in New York during this time, Gaffar’s family could not bring his body back to the US. He was buried next to his father in Bangladesh.

Gaffar leaves behind his wife and two children, among many other friends and relatives.

Paul Abramson, 92, New JerseyPaul Abramson, of Teaneck, New Jersey, was 92 years young.


“Even though he was 92, he still led a really full life. He was very technology-oriented. He would FaceTime with his grandsons, he was active on Facebook, he joined webinars,” his daughter, Nancy Abramson, remembered.

Abramson had been a travel agent and had an affinity for discovering all that the world had to offer. He had been on more than 300 cruises throughout his lifetime.

He was also a die-hard fan of Brown University’s sports teams and was just as happy to be watching a game from the comfort of his home. Abramson remained very active and found many different ways to stay busy.

“He played the stock market, he bet on sports, he played bridge,” Nancy said.

Abramson was always ready to have a good time. He was the life of the party and had a brilliant sense of humour.

“There was never a party he didn’t like. If they had a cocktail party at his community, he was part of the event, having a drink,” Nancy said. “Enjoying the party atmosphere, connecting and talking with people. He could talk to anyone about anything.”

“He was a really fun guy, always up for a joke, always tried to make people laugh,” she added.

“Even though he was 92, he still had more life to live. And I personally feel robbed … It wasn’t his turn yet.”

Abramson had been living in a retirement community and most likely contracted the virus while in close contact with others during group activities. He passed away on April 23, 2020.

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