0430 Tommy Eldred LEAD ART.JPG

Patsy Eldred speaks to a family member from her kitchen with an iPad, similar to her contact with her husband Tommy before he passed away from COVID-19 earlier this month. Patsy and son Jeff have started a fund to raise money for iPad usage by patients being treated for the virus at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto, where Tommy was a patient before his passing.

COVID-19: What is it? Depending on who you ask, you will get various answers. Ask the average person on the street and you'll get responses like, “I'm not sure, just that it's a virus,” or “I've heard it's a type of flu.” Ask a medical practitioner and you may get the answer, “It's a now-global pandemic that it is believed to have started in China,” and some will add, “but we're not 100 percent certain.”

The fact that the virus is worldwide is a puzzlement that has yet to be determined how it spread so quickly. For most people, the reality of COVID-19 is that it is “out there” and affecting people. But not on a personal level. News reports give the number of people infected and the number of deaths, both nationally and by state. Mississippi publishes statistics that are updated almost constantly, and DeSoto County – along with all of the counties in the state – are noted.

Here in DeSoto County, there were at least four known deaths from the virus out of a population of an estimated 185,000 citizens. Those numbers might seem good, but COVID-19 is not a game, nor are the numbers akin to sports scores. They're real, and they involve the lives of people who have contracted the virus and have even passed. Four out of 185,000 is not a good number. Just ask Patsy Eldred of Horn Lake.

“I was married to an incredible man, Tommy Eldred, for 53 years,” Patsy said of her husband Tommy. “We knew each other since we were 11 years old and all through his life, he was a star in high school, in football, basketball, won awards and recognition, set records, but was one of the most humble men I've ever known. He didn't boast about himself, and never took the spotlight. He left that to others, We had a wonderful life. We traveled together, shared everything. He was the light of my life.”

In March, Tommy Eldred began feeling run down and tired.

“He was and always had been in perfect health,” Patsy recalled. “Even his doctors said that Tommy had a strong heart, but suddenly, he seemed listless and worn out; totally not himself.”

Tom Eldred was employed by FedEx for 30 years, working as a manager in 'the hub' at Memphis International Airport. He was well-known as a man who got things done, solved problems, and fixed things, in Patsy's memory. He was also admired by those who knew and worked with him as an approachable and fair man.

On March 16, Tommy Eldred came home from work and was notably sick. He went for a checkup. Doctors thought he had viral pneumonia, and gave treatment. Both he and Patsy were quarantined at home, out of precaution because of Tommy's symptoms. But things didn't improve.

He was then taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto in Southaven on March 25. There he was put in a 'clean' room and ventilated, away from everyone. Doctors and nurses wore full protective clothing, gloves, masks, and attended him constantly. Patsy was permitted to visit him, but she too was fully clothed for protection since tests showed that Tommy did have the COVID-19 virus.

“I had been with him throughout the ordeal and was tested, but test results showed negative on me,” Patsy said. “I had the virus but was not infected by it. Tommy was, and the hospital started turning me away from visits, leaving him totally isolated from the outside world.”

Then her son Jeff had the idea of buying an iPad for Tommy so that he could be in contact with his wife and family. Several iPads were purchased so the family could communicate with him. He was unable to speak because of the machines he was on, but the iPad was configured so that he could merely touch it. It would come on and he could 'talk' to his family.

The stress of having her husband being unreachable wore on Patsy Eldred. After a lifetime together, she was not allowed access to her husband and after one of the visits, she was escorted out of the hospital. It was traumatic, but in hindsight necessary because of the unknown. COVID-19 is still not fully understood, nor is there a cure or even a vaccine. But the iPad solved the isolation issue.

Within two weeks of his having been admitted, Tommy Eldred passed away on April 4.

Patsy and her son knew they wanted to reach out to others, going through the trauma of having a loved one struggling with COVID-19. So the idea of starting a donation fund to raise money to purchase iPads for families dealing with the virus began. Over $3,800 has been contributed thus far, with iPads being given to those in COVID-19 isolation at Baptist-DeSoto, all in the name of Tommy Eldred.

A dedicated Facebook page has been established. The “Tommy Eldred Memorial Page” has links to donate for iPad purchases. Contributions are also accepted at the website, BMHGiving.org. Click on the “COVID-19 Assistance Fund” to give.