BEATING THE VIRUS: Nacogdoches couple misses wedding anniversary, their fight to reunite


NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KETK) – After 55 years of marriage, Irma and her husband Wilbert, thought they had been through it all. Little did they know, the challenge of a lifetime would await them during the coronavirus pandemic.

For the first time in five decades of marriage, they could no longer see or speak to each other, after both tested positive for COVID-19.

Celebration and applause rang through the Nacogdoches Medical Center as Irma was being wheeled out after she was one of the first five who was successfully treated for the coronavirus. This journey was nothing short of a miracle.

“I don’t know what happened, but I know that God has a purpose for me,” said Irma, as she fought back tears.

Still recovering from the side effects, Irma finds it hard to talk. Doctors urging her to wear a mask when around others.

It’s been one of the most important lessons in her life, and there have been plenty to choose from.

“My teaching career began in Texas, in 1964, I went from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and taught to the Navajoes Indians on the reservation, then came back to Texas in 1970 and worked in Lufkin, for a couple of years as a reading 4th-grade teacher. We moved from there to northern Virginia where I started teaching there in 1973 until 1976, and then we retired and moved here back to Texas,” remembers Irma.

For decades, she had been in the classroom. Now, a retired teacher, she dedicates her life to volunteering at Mike Moses Middle School in Nacogdoches.

“I’ve been trying to retire,” Irma laughs.

When schools shut their doors because of the virus, she spent her time back at home. Her days filled with cooking, singing, and talking with her loving husband day in and day out. As the pandmic continued to spread around her, the Browns made it a priority to take safety precautions.

“Well, we were very careful, we would go out in our mask, and gloves and they have a shopping day here for people that are close to 80-years-old,” explained Irma.

So, when she started feeling sick, COVID-19 was the last thing on her mind. Still, her daughter took her to a nearby drive through testing center, that told her the astonishing news.

“When I was called and told I had tested positive it was a shock to me, it was a shock to me,” said Irma.

She explains, she didn’t have any of the usual symptoms; shortness of breath, continuous coughing, or fever, wanting to push through to celebrate her wedding anniversary right around the corner.

“He mentioned that you’ve got to start feeling better because our 55th anniversary is Friday of that week,” Irma said, pointing to her husband. Sadly, she would never get the chance to celebrate, “He had to take me to the hospital, the 16th, the day before our 55th anniversary.”

Her husband Wilbert sitting next to her during the entire interview, handing her tissue for moments when she would tear up, thinking back to her time in the hospital. Wilbert is never too far away, the two meeting in college at Huston Tillotson University, it was a match waiting to happen.

“I grew up in Lufkin, Texas, and he grew up in Nacogdches, Texas, and back then, if you grew up in Lufkin, Texas you didn’t talk to guys from Nacogdches, Texas. So he says that I came to Huston Tillotson to meet him,” Irma says smiling.

She says if it wasn’t for her husband, she wouldn’t be alive today.

“I knew that she was sick, it was just a matter of time before we had to go to the hospital,” said Welbert.

On a ventilator for seven days, keeping up with his wife’s status through phone calls from her doctors, unable to go to the hospital after testing positive himself.

After completing rehab at the Bomar Rehabilation Center, where positive patients go after coming out of ICU, the celebration of leaving can right on time for Irma’s husband.

However, it was short lived. As she headed home, her husband headed back to the hospital.

“I had renal cell carcinoma, which is a kidney cancer, right side, its slow growth,” explained Wilbert.

Diagnosed with kidney cancer, for the first time in 14 years, he was getting treatment. Unfortunately, when he tested positive for COVID-19, he had to stop treatments.

Now getting the care he needs, battle after battle, the Brown’s say this roller coaster isn’t always fun, but as long as they have each other, it’s all worst it.

“I knew that I was not in charge, that god was in control of everything,” said Wilbert.

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