A New Jersey man with Down syndrome died from the coronavirus on his 30th birthday — but not before his friends surprised him with a virtual celebration.
Thomas Martins passed away on April 6, just nine days after COVID-19 claimed the life of his 55-year-old mom, Carolyn Martins-Reitz.
“I think Carolyn knew he wouldn’t be able to adjust to life without her. They were always together,” Martins’ godmother, Joni Lewin, told TODAY. “I have a feeling that at 11:09, which is when he went, she said, ‘OK, Thomas. It’s time to come and be with mom.'”
Lewin noted that while Martins adored his stepfather, Rudy Reitz, and his sister, Sharon Reitz, “he depended on Carolyn for everything from the moment he was born.”
When Martins-Reitz, a graphic artist, was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance earlier this month, her son stopped talking.
“He was starting to feel sick himself, but was too upset to vocalize his symptoms,” Lewin revealed. “He just shut down.”
The following day, Martins developed a cough and was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Though it was only temporary, Martins started to feel better and began asking his stepfather questions, inquiring about his mom's condition and the plans for his upcoming birthday.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
Lewin, who set up a GoFundMe online fundraiser for the Reitz family, said Martins never learned of his mom's death. Reitz would divert conversation with Martins back to his birthday, which the young man had been looking forward to.
“Thomas loved a birthday more than anyone. That was his thing," Lewin recalled.
Martins' friends at The Felician School for adults with developmental disabilities knew that and honored him with a beautiful celebration.
“They sent over a big cake and a computer so Thomas hear his classmates singing to him,” Lewin told TODAY. “That was the last thing he heard. That bugger loved his birthday so much, he waited to hear them sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: