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COVID-19 claims first San Diego VA employee

Posted at 4:37 PM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-02 21:16:25-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A grieving son is speaking out after COVID-19 claimed its first local VA employee.

John Martinez started feeling symptoms in early June. First, it was fatigue. Then came a fever and breathing troubles. His son Josh bought him a device to measure his oxygen levels. In mid-June, Josh's heart dropped when he read the device.

"His oxygen levels were below 80 and then dropped to 70. We got in our truck, took him straight to the hospital," said Martinez.

John, an Army and Navy veteran, was taken to the VA Medical Center in La Jolla where he worked. For more than 15 years, he's maintained biomedical equipment like ventilators.

When the pandemic started, he wanted to keep working.

"It was one of those things. The country needs him, so let's step up," said Martinez.

A day after John was admitted, he found himself on one of the ventilators he knew so well. Soon after, his kidneys started to fail. His condition deteriorated quickly. More than a week ago, doctors allowed Martinez to visit.

"Just told him to fight, to keep fighting. I was crying. Just put my hand to the glass, trying to scream through the glass," said Martinez.

Less than 2 days later, his father would pass away. John was set to retire after his birthday in late July, at the age of 63. Martinez isn't sure where his father contracted COVID-19 but other family members believe he got it while working.

"He wanted that benchmark of 63 to retire. He worked for so long and was looking forward to relaxation," said Martinez.

Josh says he can only shake his head at the ongoing mask debate, and those who refuse to wear one.

"It's all good. Just put on your mask. Put the mask on," said Martinez.

Josh is hoping to have his father buried at Miramar National Cemetery.

A Gofundme campaign has been set up to help the family with expenses.