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Columbia Business Monthly

Documentary About Covid in South Carolina Wins Emmy Award

Nov 01, 2022 05:27PM ● By Liv Osby

Keith Fox loved hiking in the mountains, deep sea fishing, and gardening.

He was patient and kind and always supportive.

John A. Means was a decorated veteran of the U.S. Air Force who flew dignitaries across the country.

He loved to read, do crossword puzzles, and take his family on adventures.

The two men became fast friends after Fox married Means’ daughter, Donna, in 1989.

And after they both contracted Covid at the dawn of the pandemic when family members couldn’t visit their hospitalized loved ones, they were at least able to spend time together in the ICU at Lexington Medical Center. 

Though they seemed to rally now and again as they battled the deadly virus, both tragically succumbed to the disease within days of each other in 2020 – two of the thousands of Americans who were dying of Covid every day as a terrified nation watched in disbelief. 

“My husband was such a good man. And it was a great marriage,” Donna Fox said, dissolving into tears. “And my dad was such a great, great father. I was very blessed to have him as long as I did.

“It’s just so sad.”  

As countless stories like these unfolded at Lexington Medical Center while doctors and nurses struggled to care for Covid patients with few treatments, the hospital marketing staff decided to chronicle the events in photos and video. 

The documentary they produced – “Donna’s Story” – would later win an Emmy Award.

The story began when Jeanna Moffett, director of marketing and advertising, and photographer Gerry Melendez were at the hospital documenting the extraordinary scene one day and noticed two men in beds in the ICU facing one another. 

The younger man was holding an iPad and they were FaceTiming with someone, Moffett said. That person was Donna Fox, a smoking cessation coordinator at the hospital and coincidentally, a friend of Moffett’s. 

“Then, no one could have any visitors, no family members with you, other than hospital staff,” she said. “It was so touching.”

Months later, when a vaccine finally became available, Moffett approached Fox to ask if they could film her being vaccinated for a short social media video designed to encourage others to get the shot as well. 

But after listening to her story, she realized it was worthy of more and the team decided to produce the documentary instead.

“As painful as it was for her to relive the story,” Moffett said, “her goal was thinking, if I can help one person take this seriously and take their vaccine and avoid getting Covid, it would be worth it.”

As part of the story, the team filmed and interviewed the doctors and nurses who cared for Fox’s husband and father and many other patients as well, she said. They’d grown close to the men, who were among the first patients they’d lost. 

“It was devastating to think of one our own having lost two family members to Covid,” Moffett said. “It was a very emotional loss for the whole critical care team. It touched forever all the staff who worked in that unit.”

The 20-minute film aired on the local NBC affiliate WIS News 10 as part of a special to mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic in March 2021, she said. It competed with entries from four states, she said, noting that the Emmy was presented at the annual awards ceremony of the Regional Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Atlanta. 

Moffett calls the film a tribute to Fox’s family, the medical center, and its caregivers. 

“It means a lot,” she said. “It was a very heart-wrenching story.” 

Donna and Keith Fox met in 1987. She was an ER nurse at Providence Hospital in Columbia and he was a paramedic with Richland County EMS. 

Their paths crossed often and before long they fell in love. They married two years later. 

Keith subsequently got his degree and became a physician assistant. 

Together they had a son, Carson, who shared a love of hiking, fishing and riding four-wheelers with his dad, Fox said.

“We were a very close-knit family,” she said.

Keith, 61, was a devout Christian who had special relationships with many of his patients, often visiting them in nursing homes and hospitals, she recalls.

“He was a very kind person,” she said.

On the family farm in Winnsboro, Donna Fox trained a show horse. And Keith, always encouraging, attended all her shows. The couple also enjoyed traveling and hiking in the foothills near Waynesville, North Carolina.

“We were married almost 31 years,” she said. 

A self-described daddy’s girl, Fox says her father was a retired lieutenant colonel with the Air Force who flew with the Special Air Mission transporting VIPs like Charles Lindbergh. He also flew Air Force 2 and air rescue in Hawaii.

During her high school years, he and her mother ferried her and her horse to shows and were active in the band booster club, she recalls. He delighted in going to amusement parks with the family. 

“He was an amazing man,” she said. “We had a very close relationship, especially after my mom passed away.”

Keith first got sick on March 31, 2020. Concerned, they headed to a nearby urgent care center where his oxygen level was low and a chest X-ray revealed possible pneumonia, she said. 

He was transferred to the West Columbia hospital immediately.

The previous Friday, Means, who’d battled bladder cancer, was running a fever and given antibiotics for a possible urinary tract infection, she said. And while he initially improved, he was subsequently found to have Covid as well and was hospitalized too.

Suffering from respiratory distress, the two men were moved to the ICU, according to Fox, who also came down with Covid two days after Keith was hospitalized.

Though she had a fever and cough for 11 days, and also lost her sense of taste and smell, she didn’t require hospitalization. But she was forced to isolate as her loving daughter-in-law, Gina, kept constant watch over her.

“Keith got put on the ventilator the evening after he was admitted,” she said. “He was really upset and very scared.”

From a distance, Fox would speak to the doctor caring for her father, then to the doctor treating her husband. 

“I can’t say enough about those physicians and nurses who tirelessly worked to give care to my father and husband along with those other patients,” she says. “What they went through …”

One day, Keith was removed from the ventilator, she recalls. And then he was taken to Means’ room where they could at least be with each other.

Over the next three weeks, she says, it was up and down. She spent many days on her knees praying.

“I’d get good news on one, and the other would take a turn for the worse,” she said. “It was a nightmare.”

Though he was never put on a ventilator, Means was 101 and had a heart condition. Despondent at first, he eventually began to respond to treatment, she said.

“My father winked at the nurses and shook the doctor’s hand,” she says. “And Easter Sunday … I was FaceTiming with my dad and he waved at me and said, ‘There’s my daughter.’ And he spoke to my son and his wife.”

At last things were looking up, she says. 

Then unexpectedly, there was a setback. 

“I got a phone call in the middle of the night … that they had to put Keith back on the vent,” she said. “And I got a phone call at 10 that morning that my dad had had a stroke.”

Donna Fox and her sister hurried to the hospital, where they were able to spend some time with their father, who squeezed their hands.

But on April 13 around 6 p.m., she says, he passed away.

A few days later, she got a call telling her that she and Carson, then 25, should come to the hospital because it didn’t look like Keith was going to make it.

“(The doctor) told me … that it would take a miracle from God for him to make it through,” she said.

The next morning, though, they were relieved to learn that he was better. And each day that week he continued to improve, she said.

“He was awake and could follow commands,” she said. “The doctor was pleased and talked about him getting physical therapy.”

But the next day, the phone rang again. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do. 

She raced back to the hospital and Keith passed away on April 29.

“Only 10 people could come to the funeral home for a little service,” she recalls, overcome with emotion at the memory. “We weren’t able to do my father’s service until June.”

Moffett reached out to Fox about the vaccination video in December 2020. It was still early in the pandemic, and there were no monoclonal antibodies, no Paxlovid. Many people were leery about the vaccine, which was the only protection available.  

“It was hurtful to hear people bash the vaccine,” Fox said. “But when you’ve lived through what me and my family and so many other families who’ve lost loved ones have lived through, you’re willing to do whatever you need to.”

Eventually, Moffett convinced Fox that there was a more important story to be told than could be related in a short social media video. 

And though she was anxious about being in front of the camera, Fox agreed, thinking it might help others even as it was opening up a deep wound for her.

While it was hard to relive so much pain, it was worth it in the end, she says, noting that she was contacted by several people who’d also lost loved ones to Covid after the documentary aired. 

Donna Fox credits the love and support of her family and friends, along with her faith, for her getting through such a bleak and traumatic time.

“It’s been a very difficult two years. But through God’s strength, I feel like I’m coming out on the other side, and starting to find happiness again,” she said. “If I didn’t have faith in the Lord, there’s no way I could have survived this.”

To view the documentary, go to: