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June Whitney woke up and had difficulty breathing.

“I put my hand on her back, and her lungs were filled with fluid,” said Whitney’s son, Calvin Whitney Jr.

After being rushed to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital on April 26 with an irregular heartbeat, lungs filled with fluid and difficulty breathing, the 91-year-old from Ringwood had to bear the news that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

Along with heart conditions, pneumonia and cancer, she now had to fight the deadly virus.

Whitney’s granddaughter, Corey Rice, 37, of Rockford, said they immediately put her grandmother in an isolation room and began to give her oxygen.

“She couldn’t talk,” Rice said. “She was very weak. She was on the oxygen, and they were trying to stabilize her potassium and blood pressure. And then she had an irregular heartbeat as well that they were able to try to control. Then they figured out that she was also aspirating.”

After her heart stabilized, Whitney was fed through tubes. Unable to eat, unable to talk, unable to breathe, Whitney’s situation was dire.

The most difficult part of her recovery process, Whitney said, was not having any strength.

“With her having cancer and everything, we weren’t sure she was going to make it,” Rice said.

With daily nutritional evaluations, different antibiotics and speech therapy, her condition began to improve, Rice said. Whitney then was moved to Wauconda Care for rehab.

After repeatedly testing positive for the virus, Whitney finally returned home Sunday after recovering from COVID-19. Whitney said she feels terrible but lucky.

“After she tested negative, all the nurses lined up in the halls and did a little parade from the COVID unit to the regular one,” Rice said.

For Rice, her grandmother’s recovery was a “miracle,” especially after already losing her grandfather to COVID-19.

“When I got that text message [that she had tested positive], my heart just sank, and I thought it was a death sentence,” Rice said. “To be honest, I just broke down and I started crying and I said a couple swear words.”

When Whitney tested positive for the virus, Rice didn’t know her grandfather would, too. Calvin Whitney Sr., 95, was admitted to the hospital May 2 and lost his battle to the deadly virus May 10, when they least expected.

“My mom was able to call the hospital and have them spend time together before my grandma got moved to rehab,” Rice said.

After 72½ years of marriage, it was the last time they’d see each other.

“He was always there for me,” Whitney said.

Rice and her family had planned a special Mother’s Day celebration for Whitney. The family took turns waving to Whitney outside the window of the rehab facility, waving as they spoke with her on the phone. But learning Calvin Whitney Sr. died at 4:30 a.m. and knowing they couldn’t give June Whitney a hug made it that much harder for the family to celebrate, Rice said.

“So we called her from the phone, put her on speakerphone and at least got to wave hi to her and talked to her for a few minutes,” Rice said.

Calvin Whitney Sr.’s loss came unexpectedly for the family. Rice said he had been doing well despite battling a kidney disease, pneumonia and diabetes.

“We couldn’t see him, and we thought he was gonna make it, and then he crashed so quick,” Rice said. “I mean, it was like we got a phone call within an hour, and they couldn’t get him back. And then on Mother’s Day of all things.”

For Rice, her grandparents always have been special and down to earth. The Whitneys together fostered 53 children over their lifetime and took care of their own five children, something Rice admired.

“We fostered black kids, Asian kids, an Irish baby, kids with polio. We took them everywhere,” said Calvin Whitney Jr., 58.

Drafted right out of high school, Calvin Whitney Sr. served in World War II and had been a prisoner of war in Germany for nine months.

“He was malnourished,” Calvin Whitney Jr. said. “He was not treated very well. There was a point when he was captured, they took his uniform and gave him a dirty old suit and wooden shoes. They later found a German soldier wearing his uniform.”

Calvin Whitney Sr. worked for Illinois Bell for 39 years. He retired with perfect attendance.

He also was someone who could be counted on when needed. Calvin Whitney Sr. could be found fixing people’s cars on the weekends or helping family members with their electric plumbing, Calvin Whitney Jr. said.

He enjoyed camping, fishing and cutting grass on his 5-acre property.

Above all his roles, Calvin Whitney Sr. was a “father figure” to Rice since she was 17, when she lost her own father.

“I always said if I married or anything, I would want my grandfather to walk me down the aisle,” Rice said. “I feel bad because I’m like, I think he was taken away too soon. He’s 95 years old. You know how many people can say that? They’re still alive. I’m blessed that my grandma made it, and I’m hoping she can, you know, continue to get stronger.”

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