Married 50 years, couple descibes how they got COVID-19 and survived life-or-death fight

Posted at 5:17 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-18 12:38:25-04

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

Nancy and Ray Williams had been inseparable during 50 years of marriage, raising a family, doing everything together. But when both got COVID-19, when they needed each other the most, the deadly disease pulled them apart and forced Ray to fight for his life on his own.

“When they took me, I thought, ‘That's it. Our kids are going to lose both of their parents,’” Nancy recalled during a FaceTime interview with Ray.

Ray was so sick he had to be treated separately in the ICU and doesn’t remember being on a ventilator.

“No, ma’am,” Ray said.

“I was so scared I was going to lose him,” said Nancy.

Safe at home now, though still quarantining, Nancy told how the care they received at a local hospital pulled them through.

The Williamses said they don’t know how they got COVID-19 but they remember when the disease overcame them.

“You just don't know where it is out there,” said Ray.

In late February, they went out to stock up on supplies. Both started coughing. Both got fevers.

“This virus was right in my body. I could feel it,” Nancy said, “and it was taking my breath.”

And Ray’s, too.

When the symptoms wouldn't let up, Ray went for help at St. Elizabeth in Fort Thomas, which was set up to treat COVID-19 patients.

Nancy went there later and started thinking the worst.

“I don't want to go like this, not with this nasty disease, and not being able to breathe,” she recalled.

Kept in isolation, Nancy said she got the oxygen she needed and reassurance from St. E's medical team. They told her they had been training for this scenario for years.

“They came in my room suited up like astronauts and they knew what they had to do and where they had to put everything. My door stayed shut. I never saw another patient,” she said.

Except Ray. His case was worse.

“They took me down and I had to get suited up and I got to go down and see him,” Nancy said.

“I wanted to talk to him even if he didn't hear me.”

The situation was dire, but the outcome was sublime.

“He was sicker than she was, but both of them walked out of this hospital. I can't tell you how good that feels,” said Dr. Dora Savani, St. Elizabeth Healthcare Infectious Disease Medical Director.

Savani leads the team that treated Nancy and Ray.

"They were terrific day and night,” Ray said of the nurses and doctors.

Savani introduced us to some of those frontliners on FaceTime -- heroes who are getting people like the Williamses back to their families.

Savani pointed to the number of patients admitted and released on one day this week to show they're making progress in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Six people went home and we got four in and that has been our trend,” Savani said. “We are discharging more patients than we are admitting, so that is good."

“I feel so grateful for the people at St. Elizabeth,” said Ray. “If it wasn't for them, this wouldn't be possible.”

“This” meaning more time with their children, more time with their grandkids and more time with each other.

Nancy and Ray celebrate 51 years together in June.

“She’s my everything,” Ray said.

That's why people have left yard cards on the hospital grounds that say “Heroes Work Right Here."

Savani and the Williamses have a message for the rest of us: Do your part. Be your own hero. Stay home to stop the virus from spreading.

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:


  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.


  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.


  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.