Updated: December 30, 2020 06:31 PM
Created: December 30, 2020 04:26 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Navajo Nation nurse was escorted to his final resting place after losing his life to COVID-19.
Raymond Joe, a 48-year-old combat veteran, was one of the first health care workers to sound the alarm about the virus on the Navajo Nation.
On Wednesday, Joe’s flag-draped casket made its final 140-mile trip home to Gallup, New Mexico.
“We have lost a really great warrior in our Native community,” said Eugenia Johnson, Ray’s spouse.
Johnson, who is Ray’s common law wife, is also a nurse on the Navajo Nation. She said Ray was one of the few in the region who was fluent in Navajo.
“He would go out into the Navajo Nation, parts of Shiprock, Kirtland and Cove to see his patients,” Johnson said.
Back in April, Ray authored an editorial in the Navajo Times about the virus. A portion of the piece read, "I am pleading with all my people to listen to all the warnings and abide by the rules.”
“He never gives up and he's always trying to find ways to help people,” Johnson added.
In November, the couple contracted the virus. While Johnson recovered, Ray’s condition worsened, which Johnson said was partly due to his combat experience.
“A lot of the gas fumes that were in Desert Storm that affected him and increased his lung scarring. He also had a history of asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure,” she said.
Ray spent 24 days as a COVID patient in the VA Hospital in Albuquerque before the virus claimed his life. He was the father of four children.
“The hardest part of it is waking up every day and not seeing him, not having him be with me or the kids, and it breaks my heart,” Johnson said.
Johnson said her husband’s words in the editorial still ring true for the Navajo People today:
"The choices you make today influence all those around you. If you make the sacrifices today, we will have a much brighter tomorrow."
The family is raising funds to help pay for funeral expenses. To donate, click here.
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