When 30-year-old Ben Luderer started to feel sick, he wasn’t that surprised. Just a few days earlier, his wife, Brandy, had tested positive for coronavirus, but there wasn’t much to it.
All she had was a really low-grade temperature, one that the doctors didn’t even really consider to be a fever, she said. She had some congestion, but she was on the mend. He wasn’t all that worried, either, when he started feeling unwell. After all, they were both young and healthy.
The two worked in the Cliffside Park School District in New Jersey, both as special education teachers – she at School #4, he at School #6. A star baseball player in high school, he continued his passion by coaching the varsity baseball team.
For Ben, however, his symptoms quickly became more severe. He had more shortness of breath, and by the last Friday in March, he told Brandy it was time to go to the emergency room. “He was really concerned,” Brandy says. “He came into our bedroom where I was laying, and he said, you know, I’ve got to go, I’ve got to take myself to the hospital.”
“Are you sure you want to go there?” she asked him. He said “Yes, I need to.” Immediately, Brandy drove him to the hospital. She couldn’t go in with him, though, because they weren’t accepting visitors. So, she sat in the car the entire evening and they texted back and forth. “He updated me the whole time,” she said.
At the hospital, Ben received oxygen and responded well, Brandy said. They gave him fluids and Tylenol and then sent him home that same evening. “Keep doing what you’re doing at home,” they said.
The following Sunday, he was feeling better and showing signs of improvement, his wife said. He got out of bed and ate dinner for the first time.
“Sunday was a great day. He was up moving around, talking to us,” Brandy said. Ben was on the road to recovery, it seemed. That night, however, his symptoms returned.
“Ben always said the nights had been the worst for him, he would sweat and when he laid down a certain way,” Brandy said. “It was particularly hard for him to breathe.”
That night, Ben had an especially hard time getting comfortable. Because Ben was sleeping in the bedroom, and Brandy on the couch, they were texting back and forth to communicate. At one point, Ben texted his wife and said, “I’m struggling.” Brandy asked him if he needed to go back to the ER, and Ben replied that he wasn’t sure.
“So, I just tried to do as much as I could to make him comfortable, you know, calm down his breathing, you know, get him to cool down,” Brandy said. She borrowed a humidifier from a friend to try that.
Once Ben finally settled into bed, Brandy listened through the door of their bedroom.
“I could hear through the door that he was still breathing, and I fell asleep,” she said. She checked in on him again at 2 a.m, and all seemed OK. However, when she woke at 6 a.m., she found her 30-year-old husband lifeless in their bed.
“Whether he knew you for five minutes or he knew you for his whole entire life, he would give you the same respect and try to reach out and help you and make you laugh in any way possible. That was just the type of selfless person he was,” remembered Brandy.
As I listened to Brandy tell the story, my heart broke for her. They were husband and wife, but also best friends, both working in the same school district, driving to work every day. She didn’t know what she would do with herself on Monday, let alone the rest of her life.
And Brandy was left with a mystery. She knew her husband was sick, but how was it possible that a young, healthy 30-year-old with no pre-existing condition