Springfield man dies of COVID-19: ‘The hardest part…we were unable to be there for him’

Even after he was intubated and put on a ventilator, Jennifer Sheehan had visions that her brother Joe Sale would recover and be paraded out of Springfield Regional Medical Center in a wheelchair as she, the hospital staff and other family and friends cheered him on.

Those hopes disappeared when the 62-year-old Air Force veteran died of COVID-19 early Monday, a week before a Memorial Day that will pass without parades.

Sale, who passed away peacefully with wife Karol Hutchinson at his side, is the third COVID-19 death confirmed by the Clark County Combined Health District. The District on Wednesday reported one other probable death due to the virus among 139 confirmed cases and 29 probable cases in Clark County.

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Hutchison said her husband took Tylenol for a headache that struck him on April 19, a Sunday, and the final day of their last weekly 4,000-mile round trip from Cincinnati to Los Angeles for CRST trucking. During the trip, he had logged his 2 millionth mile of accident-free driving somewhere in Texas.

Back in their Springfield home the next day, “He thought he had the flu,” she said.

Four days on, Sheehan said, “He woke up with shortness of breath and very bad heartburn” and was admitted to the hospital.

Hutchinson, who has tested negative for COVID-19, called Sale “a calm, quiet ‘people’ guy” with whom she shared “very rare relationship.”

Constantly together for 17 years, they were able to trade driving shifts and feel comfortable in a cramped truck cab with their Doberman, Hondo, for a simple reason: “We actually liked each other.”

Jeff Sale, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said his older brother “always found good in everyone.”

He also also found ways to help others, including those new to trucking and family members, whether they needed a strong back or advice on life decisions. “Things that others might just walk past,” his brother would notice, Jeff said.

That was consistent with the brother he followed in Springfield’s Boy Scout Troop 1, where they learned to canoe and hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail. Joe also looked after Jeff in their Highlands School neighborhood on Springfield’s South Side in an era of racial tension.

Although Jeff said he carries no animosities from that time, “He was a tough guy” who “took some punches for me and … in some ways taught me how to be tough” when that was required.

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After graduating from Northeastern High School in 1976, Joe spent four years in the Air Force, then leveraged his service experience in logistics into a job with the tech firm Data General, first in Chicago, then in Colorado Springs.

It was there that, while living next door to one another, Joe gave Jeff his first off-road experiences, driving him in a Jeep over the high and rough terrain near the Continental Divide; changing tires on steep mountainsides; and taking in the vistas while fishing at Rainbow Lake, Wheeler Lake, the Montgomery Reservoir.

When Data General closed, Joe ran an appliance refurbishing business out of his house, went back to school to become a manger, and eventually turned to trucking.

To his brother “there were always options,” Jeff said, “always things to do.”

Having spent such a long time in trucking, Joe was looking forward to a retirement relatively free of travel and filled with days working in the yard, collecting and spending time with the dog.

“He wasn’t looking for the high life,” Jeff said. Simple pleasures were what he enjoyed.

Sheehan said her eldest brother’s devotion to family made it painful for all of them to be separated from him during his hospitalization — to not be there during stretches of his shortness of breath, taxing treatments and times when his blood pressure and heart rates suddenly fluctuated.

“I think that’s the hardest part,” she wrote in a Facebook post, “because Joe was always there for us, and we were unable to be there for him …. He was my knight in shining armor, my hero, and the coolest dude I knew growing up.”

Joe Sale is survived by his 89-year-old father, Bill, who because of airline restrictions during the pandemic, last saw him in October. Other survivors include another brother, John; three children and two grandchildren. His mother, JoAnne Sale, predeceased him.

The family asks that memorial donations be made to a local animal shelter or the Clark County Chapter for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In an impassioned conclusion to her Facebook post, Sheehan also asked people to protect themselves in the continuing pandemic.

“COVID is real. It took our brother, Dad’s son, Karol’s life partner, a father, a grandfather and uncle and a friend …. I pray for all of us and for you to do your part in protecting one another.”

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