Nova Scotia

A family suffers heartbreak, but finds hope at the epicentre of an outbreak

Derrick Carvery and his grandmother Margaret Gordon's experiences with COVID-19 show two sides of an unpredictable virus. It can claim a young life, but sometimes spares the most elderly. They lived separately at Northwood, the Halifax long-term care home hard hit by the virus.

Derrick Carvery, 37, and his grandmother, 98, both got COVID-19 at Northwood. He died, while she lived

Nelson and Linda Carvery say they are at peace with their son's death from COVID-19. They celebrate that her mother has suffered few symptoms from the virus. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Derrick Carvery and his grandmother Margaret Gordon's experiences with COVID-19 show two sides of an unpredictable virus.

It can claim a young life, but sometimes spares the most elderly.

They lived separately at Northwood, a long-term care home in Halifax hit hard by the virus. Among the 47 deaths in Nova Scotia reported through Sunday, 41 were Northwood residents — that's 87 per cent of the deaths.

Carvery, 37, had cerebral palsy and died May 3. It's believed he's among the youngest in the province to succumb to COVID-19.

This is Nelson Carvery's favourite photo of Derrick. He's riding shotgun in his dad's jeep. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

But his granny, Margaret Gordon, 98, is still eating, chatting and napping in her private room, much like she was before she tested positive for the virus on April 25.

She joins 100-year-old Kathleen Murphy, another older resident who fought it off.

"It's the disease itself, it's unknown, we don't know what it does, where it goes, but we're learning," said Nelson Carvery, Derrick's father, as he sat next to wife Linda on their doorstep a few blocks from the care home.

In Derrick's case, his only symptom during the first week or so was a slight temperature. But in his last few days, the disease intensified. Despite being given oxygen, he was fading.

Linda paused as she considered what struck her most about COVID-19.

"The speed of the virus," she said. "That surprised me."

The family has no idea how Margaret or Derrick contracted the illness.

The couple received a call two days before Derrick, their youngest child, died. With a rule allowing only one visitor for a four-hour visit, Linda went first, then Nelson.

An urn holds Derrick Carvery's ashes. A celebration of life will take place when physical distancing orders ease. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

In Derrick's shared room, his father told him he was loved. Nelson played Derrick's favourite music, Michael Jackson songs, until the phone died. 

Just as Nelson's allotted time was ending, Derrick's breathing became shorter. Then it stopped.

Nelson, who's 77, did not dare touch him, despite wearing a gown, gloves and a mask. He feared the disease.

But the Carverys say they are at peace.

"It feels as though God made a visit and said to Derrick, 'You know, we're in a coronavirus pandemic... I'm going to take you home with me,'" said Linda. 

With Derrick's medical conditions, doctors didn't think he'd make it past 30. He was a month shy of his 38th birthday.  

His grandmother, who outlived four of her nine children, experienced a mild temperature spike.

"I find that quite amazing," said Linda.

"[Derrick] cannot fight this virus and then we have my 98-year-old mother, who's up there Skyping every day, and she also had the virus but it didn't affect her at all."

From left: Margaret Gordon, Linda Carvery, Derrick Carvery and Nelson Carvery are shown at a fashion show at Northwood in 2019. (Joy O'Brien)

Despite Derrick's disability becoming more severe as he aged, his parents made sure he had fun.

Derrick enjoyed drives with his dad in his Jeep, boat cruises in Halifax harbour and a family trip to Jamaica. Last fall, he, his mom, and granny participated in a fashion show at Northwood.

Linda Carvery lost her son, Derrick, to COVID-19 on May 3 2:05

Linda said she wants her son's death to bring attention to how people with physical disabilities and underlying medical conditions can be vulnerable to the disease.

She is a member of the board of governors at Northwood and remains a steadfast supporter of the home.

But as she reflects on how rapidly the virus spread through the facility, she notes its aging space and shared rooms. As the largest care home east of Montreal, its size appears to be a possible factor.

She's thankful for the care her loved ones received and the regular updates on their conditions.

The Carverys shared jokes with Margaret Gordon in their first Facetime call with her. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

She's especially grateful to the workers who get suited up in masks, gloves and gowns, to go into rooms to help residents make video calls with loved ones.

Linda was able to see her mom for the first time since the start of the pandemic by video call on Friday. They missed each other.

"You're looking good, kid," Linda told her mom, who turns 99 in two months.

She let out a big laugh as her mom told her to keep the conversation short. Margaret was ready for her afternoon nap.

Then they wished each other a happy Mother's Day.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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