John Sprinkle of Evergreen Park observed his 36th birthday Nov. 4.
He didn’t celebrate because he had been feeling sick. But he went on Facebook the following day to thank everyone for wishing him well.
The next morning, having trouble breathing, he called 911 to take him to the hospital. He was able to walk to the ambulance and waved to a neighbor.
A couple of hours later, he texted his sister from the emergency room, saying he was feeling better.
At 3:38 that afternoon, Sprinkle was dead from acute respiratory failure caused by COVID-19.
Just like that.
The toll from the coronavirus pandemic is mounting again, much like it was in the spring, and I’ve decided to return to what I was doing then: telling the stories of the victims.
John Sprinkle was a simple, good-natured soul. He lived at home with his parents and worked at a gun shop in Crete. He loved animals and target shooting.
But his main interest was his involvement with a pair of veterans service organizations: the American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association for many years and more recently with American Warriors Motorcycle Association.
Sprinkle was neither a veteran nor a motorcycle rider. But his grandfather served in the Navy during World War II and inspired Sprinkle to believe in the importance of honoring military service. The motorcycle groups gave Sprinkle the opportunity to take an active role in showing his respect.
He enjoyed carrying the flag in the AVMRA color guard at ceremonies and selling merchandise at events to raise money for veterans homes.
Nobody worked harder than Sprinkle to support the group’s efforts, said his friend Billy Neyen, 63, of LaGrange, a Navy veteran.
“He would dive into anything he could get his hands on to help veterans,” Neyen said.
On holidays such as Veterans Day, Sprinkle typically would be at a commemoration somewhere, dressed in his color guard uniform. His motorcycle vest bore his self-bestowed nickname: Bubba.
Between such engagements, Sprinkle was there to help everyone else, letting them borrow his truck, feeding his sister’s cat, babysitting Neyen’s dogs, driving a friend to a doctor’s appointment.
“You could call 100 people right now, and they’d all say he had a heart of gold,” said his sister Rose Sprinkle, a hospital administrator who used to work in Barack Obama’s Senate office. “It sounds so cliché, but he would do anything for anyone at any time, and he never had a bad thing to say about anybody.”
His aunt Christine Wollner marveled at his positive attitude.
“He just didn’t seem to have a bad day,” she said.
His death was out of the blue, but the COVID diagnosis wasn’t. Sprinkle’s 71-year-old father, also named John, tested positive days earlier, and Sprinkle had been tested. It’s unclear whether he knew the results before heading to the hospital.
Sprinkle was seriously overweight, maybe 5-6 and 285 pounds. That can put people at greater risk if they contract COVID-19.
He had no other known health problems, emphasis on “known” because he didn’t have health insurance and didn’t go to the doctor, his sister said.
The afternoon he died, she raced to the hospital to be with her younger brother. She knew from her phone conversations that the situation was dire. But, when she entered his room wearing full PPE, doctors already were trying to resuscitate him.
“I held his hand. I told him how much we loved him. I said I was sorry I couldn’t take care of him and fix it.”
The doctors and nurses also were crying.
“You could just see it was breaking their hearts, too,” she said.
After he died, they left her alone with him.
“I probably said the word ‘no’ two million times. I said no, no, no…”
Rose Sprinkle doesn’t know how her family was exposed, and there’s no sense speculating.
Her father was hospitalized hours after her brother’s death and has been there since. He seems to be holding his own. Her mother Patricia, who also tested positive, is isolating at home.
Most people won’t die from COVID-19. But many families will feel its pain.