Manitoba family urges people to get vaccinated after losing father to COVID-19
James Yablonski, 39, died in a Winnipeg hospital last week after getting sick with coronavirus variant
A Manitoba family says the sudden COVID-19 death of their father last week spurred them to get vaccinated against the illness — and they're hoping it will do the same for others.
James Yablonski had scheduled an appointment to get his first dose in mid-June, his family said. But before that day rolled around, he contracted an unspecified coronavirus variant and was rushed to Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital with trouble breathing.
Soon after, he ended up on a ventilator and in a medically-induced coma in the hospital's intensive care unit, his family said. The 39-year-old father of three died last Monday.
"I don't think he had time [to get vaccinated earlier]," his oldest, 13-year-old Jen Yablonski, said on the phone on Sunday.
"He's always pretty busy."
Just five days after his death — and two before his funeral — Yablonski's family rolled up their sleeves to do what he never got the chance to.
Jen, alongside her 12-year-old brother, Landon, and their mom, Amanda McMahon, got their first doses of the vaccine at the Gimli Recreation Centre supersite.
"This is the first COVID case in our family, first one that's hit us personally. And to get such a tragic outcome on the first experience with this disease was just a bit shocking, I think, for all of us," McMahon's sister, Sarah Robertson, said on the phone Sunday as McMahon made arrangements with Yablonski's mother for the upcoming service.
"To think that one shot or, even better, two shots could have changed an outcome, we would just hope that everyone can maybe take that into consideration going forward."
'A big teddy bear'
Jen said she'll miss the movie nights she and her two little brothers — Landon and seven-year-old Ryder — would have with their dad.
Their parents split up about a year ago, and Yablonski moved from the town of Winnipeg Beach, Man., to the nearby community of Fraserwood — but the kids would still see their dad every weekend, she said.
"Every night, we'd watch movies until like nine o'clock. And then because Ryder, he's seven, he needs to go to bed earlier," Jen said.
"After that, we'd just hang out, eat snacks [and] watch movies all night."
Jen said her dad's health was "perfectly fine, as far as I know," before he got sick, and he'd just started working out again. Once he was hospitalized, his condition seemed to get worse quickly — and once he was there, she and her siblings didn't get to see him again before he died.
"It was like one thing after another. It was a lot," she said.
"Nobody really called us to tell us what was going on."
Robertson said her family will remember Yablonski for everything he was: a dedicated peat moss harvester, a loving father and a "kid at heart" who always made sure his own were taken care of.
"He was such a nice, sweet man. He was kind of like a big teddy bear in the family," she said.
"He really loved the kids. He made sure that they had everything they needed all the time."
Now that he's gone — and with McMahon staying home full-time to care for their kids at least until school starts again — Robertson and her brother have started a GoFundMe page for the family.
That campaign, which had raised a little over $2,000 by Sunday afternoon, will see the money raised go toward the family's immediate needs and any excess put away for post-secondary tuition, she said.