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Linda Wedman, left, and Phyllis Chesbro are pictured at Grinter Sunflower Farms in September 2017.

For weeks after contracting COVID-19, 95-year-old Phyllis Chesbro would ask her daughter, “When will I get better?”

Chesbro had lived a relatively independent life prior to contracting the virus. Despite having dementia and needing help remembering to take her medication, she was able to walk around by herself, bathe herself and enjoy books and Turner Classic Movies in her Brandon Woods apartment.

She also had a good appetite, and her daughter, Linda Wedman, said one of her favorite sayings was “I’ve never met a dessert I didn’t like.”

But after routine surveillance testing on Nov. 20 revealed that Chesbro had COVID-19, she went from being independent to completely dependent in a span of 12 days.

“I think the COVID knocked her flat. She got very, very weak, very exhausted,” Wedman said in a phone call with the Journal-World. “Within those 12 days she went from being independent in her apartment … to having to come out of the isolation with 24/7 care.”

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Linda Wedman holds hands with her mother, Phyllis Chesbro, on Jan. 5, 2021, two days before Chesbro’s death due to complications from COVID-19.

Chesbro could no longer walk on her own. All she wanted to do was sleep. And she had no appetite, Wedman said. For weeks, though, she held on. Chesbro frequently asked for water and was occasionally able to eat soft food like applesauce or yogurt.

But on Jan. 1, Chesbro didn’t ask, “When will I get better?” She asked, “Am I dying?”

Six days later, Chesbro died from complications of COVID-19. Wedman discussed her mom’s experience with COVID-19 in a phone interview with the Journal-World on Feb. 11, and she also shared some details of her mom’s life.

Chesbro was born and raised in Ottawa, where she married her husband, Vernon Chesbro, and raised their three kids: Scott Chesbro, Susan Workman and Wedman. She received a bachelor of arts in education from Ottawa University and worked for a short time as an elementary school teacher in Ottawa. Wedman said Chesbro loved it and talked about that experience her whole life.

In the late ’60s, Vernon’s job as a corporate executive took the family across the United States and the world. Chesbro lived in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies; St. Louis; Bakersfield, Calif.; Bellevue, Wash.; Cairo; and Atlanta.

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Vernon and Phyllis Chesbro are pictured on a camel in front of the Giza Necropolis in the late ’70s.

Wedman said Chesbro was always supportive of the moves and thought of them as experiences. But Ottawa was home, and that’s where Chesbro returned and lived until her husband’s death in 2010. Wedman said Chesbro was involved in the bridge club, volunteered at voting sites and was a supporter of the humane society there. She also worked for a travel agency for a short time. For the past 11 years, however, Chesbro had been living at Brandon Woods in Lawrence so she could be closer to Wedman.

Wedman described Chesbro as positive, feisty and all about family. Wedman said her mom enjoyed going on drives to view the scenery and that she was a huge help with Wedman’s son, who has cystic fibrosis.

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Phyllis Chesbro is pictured at the Baker University Wetlands in September of 2016.

At Brandon Woods, Chesbro was well-liked by the staff, Wedman said. Wedman emphasized how impressed she was with Brandon Woods since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the facility made changes quickly to ensure safety, and that it didn’t have any COVID-19 cases for months. When Chesbro contracted COVID-19, Wedman said Brandon Woods had had a few other cases, and that some of her mom’s caretakers had contracted the virus. But Wedman said the employees were always masked and washing their hands, and that she considered her mom getting the virus only “bad luck.”

In addition to the staff at Brandon Woods, Wedman also said the home health aides and hospice staff members were great, and gave her mom 24/7 care.

Though Wedman said she understood her mom’s age was likely a factor in her decline, it didn’t make her death any easier. Wedman said that “having her die due to COVID was still really hard.”

Wedman said she had thought about the fact that COVID-19 vaccines were now being administered, and that if her mom had not gotten the virus in November, she would likely still be here today.

When asked what she would say to people who don’t think the virus is real or who don’t follow health guidelines, Wedman said she didn’t understand it “in the slightest.”

“Science is pretty black and white, and clearly you can talk to any nurse or doctor and you will be told about people that have fought this and died or recovered. How you can deny this is beyond me,” she said.

Wedman also talked about how many people Chesbro’s death affected. She said it devastated generations — Chesbro’s children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. Wedman also said she often thought about how one person contracting the virus could endanger everyone else they might come into contact with.

“To me, it just reverberates how many people it affects,” she said.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Phyllis Chesbro, seated at center, pictured at her 90th birthday celebration in April of 2015.

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