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Calgary woman who died of COVID-19 was expecting 2020 to be best year: husband


CALGARY — A man whose wife died of COVID-19 last month says the two of them were expecting 2020 to be the best year of their lives.

Mike Diemer's 57-year-old wife, Deb Diemer, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 19 and died in their Calgary home on March 30.

"My in-laws have lost a daughter, my sisters-in-law have lost a sister, I've lost a wife and my daughter has lost her mom," Diemer said in an interview Wednesday.

"And none of us can go to see the other and console one another," added Diemer, who is still in isolation after contracting the novel coronavirus himself.

Doctors had always followed his wife's health closely after she was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension in 1986.

Diemer said she was able to keep the disease in check with medication until late 2001. She was able to get a double-lung transplant months later in 2002.

"My wife had such a big heart," he said. "No matter what she went through, she was also worried about other people and looking to make sure that they were OK."

Diemer said about six weeks before her death, his wife got a kidney transplant using a kidney donated by her older sister, Kathy Ziegler.

"Kathy turns 60 on Thursday and rather than celebrating her birthday, she has to be all alone and think about the loss of her sister. It's tough."

Diemer said his wife only experienced mild symptoms and her doctors recommended she stay home to recover, since she wasn't having difficulty breathing and could speak in full sentences.

But she deteriorated quickly and went into medical distress at home, he said. Doctors later told him that she had died within hours of the virus attacking her heart. 

"My wife is an Irish redhead and she never backed down from a fight," Diemer said. Health problems throughout her life also included diabetes and breast cancer.

"Every time, she didn't complain. She just faced whatever she had to face and kept going. We thought she was going to beat COVID-19, too."

Diemer said it's comforting that his wife died at home and not alone in a hospital like many others with the virus. Doctors told him that even if she had been hospitalized, she wouldn't have survived.

The family was planning to spend the summer at a lake, since the kidney transplant had freed Deb from daily dialysis.

"We were starting what we thought would be a new chapter in life," he said. "We thought 2020 was going to be a great year."

The couple were starting to plan for retirement and were thinking of returning to Medicine Hat, Alta., to be near her family. 

The night of his wife's death, while he was watching the news, Diemer said it struck him that she was only described as a woman in her 50s with a pre-existing medical condition. He didn't want her life reduced to a statistic.

She was also a close friend to many, a doting mother to their 18-year-old adopted daughter, Helena, and an active member of Alberta's transplant community, he said.

"She had the biggest heart out of anybody I know. She was a very giving individual and she touched a lot of lives."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020

— By Daniela Germano in Edmonton

The Canadian Press

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