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COVID-19 sweeps away matriarch in flood-ravaged mid-Michigan

In this June 11, 2020 photo, The family, daughter-in-law Savanah Eagan, son Jonathan Eagan, husband Kevin Hennig, daughter Jessica Riggs, daughter-in-law Nicole Egan, daughter-in-law Brooke Egan, son Joshua Eagan and son Jereme Eagan, of respiratory therapist Carrie Lynn Hennig, who died of COVID-19 while at the hospital, gather and speak of their mother and wife at her sons home in Beaverton, Mich. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News via AP)

By CHRISTINE FERRETTI

The Detroit News

AP Member Exchange

MIDLAND– With floodwaters rising and his wife hospitalized with COVID-19, Kevin Hennig feared the worst — missing critical moments with her.

“I was worried about the bridges and the roads washing out, and I wouldn’t be able to get to her,” he said. He hurried to the parking structure at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland, where he would spend the night in his truck.

It was a disaster within a disaster.

On May 19, the Edenville Dam failed at 5:45 p.m. followed by the Sanford Dam an hour or so later. Midland was beginning to disappear. Just a few thousand feet from the rapidly rising Tittabawassee River, the MidMichigan Medical Center was in trouble. Its basement had nine feet of water.

Kevin’s phone rang.

“We have to transfer her because the generator for this side of the hospital is underwater, and we know we’re going to lose power,” a nurse told him. “We don’t have (any) backup for Carrie and we have to fly her out.”

Carrie Hennig, a 56-year-old respiratory therapist from Sanford, had spent a month in the intensive care unit on a ventilator after contracting the novel coronavirus, presumably while helping others to breathe.

By 3:30 a.m., a life flight helicopter took Carrie to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, where she would spend the final two-and-a-half weeks of her life.

Hennig’s mid-Michigan family is now dealing with the aftermath of a deadly pandemic that robbed them of their matriarch following a nearly eight-week battle and a historic flood that destroyed their hometown.

And the combination of unthinkable tragedies has limited their options to celebrate her life. Several prominent restaurants, a bank, post office and shops that had been fixtures for generations in their hometown are now gone.

“Nobody was willing to take a reservation from us,” Kevin, 54, whose family now is finalizing details for a July 18 memorial told The Detroit News.

When the coronavirus outbreak began to ramp up, Carrie relocated from her home on Sanford Lake to isolate in a camper on a 40-acre lot in nearby Beaverton that she and her husband bought to build their retirement home.

Carrie had asthma — as do three of her children. But when the deadly respiratory virus began to hit, she refused to stay home, said daughter Jessica Riggs, 23.

“I continually kept calling her, crying, begging her not to go back to work. I was like ‘what if something happens? What about your family?'” Riggs said.

“All she replied to me is, ‘if I die, then I die a hero because I’m doing what I love and I’m saving lives.'”

Carrie, who worked at Saginaw-based Covenant HealthCare, was notified of direct contact with multiple patients who initially had no symptoms but later tested positive for the virus. She had an initial negative test and continued to self-quarantine.

She worked four out of the five days prior to her own diagnosis, including Easter Sunday. She called her husband at 4 a.m. the following day to say she had developed a fever.

Kevin, a registered nurse, directed his wife to get tested again as soon as she could, and Riggs called her mother hourly to check in and log her symptoms. The next day, Riggs traveled to her mother’s makeshift campsite to drop off a care package. That’s when Carrie got a call with the confirmation. She had COVID-19.

“Me and mom looked at each other when they said it was positive and we just cried to each other,” Riggs said.

Carrie told her only daughter: “I wish I could hug you one more time. I’m going to make it through, I promise. I’m not going to let this take me.'”

Covenant, which cares for patients in Michigan’s northeastern lower peninsula and the Thumb, has admitted about 360 COVID-19 positive patients, said Kristin Knoll, a Covenant spokeswoman.

Carrie was one of the 212 out of 4,700 Covenant employees to test positive. She is the only one to have died.

Throughout the battle, Kevin said he “told the story as it was” by sharing multiple updates on his wife’s condition on Facebook each day with friends, coworkers and relatives.

Her 32-year-old son, Jonathan Eagan, said the virus was unlike anything he’d ever seen.

“My mom worked 16-hour days, she just had double knee replacements,” he said. “Being a single mother (once), raising three boys, she was no rookie to pain.”