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Family, community mourn loss of Provo NICU therapist to COVID-19

Posted at 4:12 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 00:31:05-05

PROVO, Utah — COVID-19 is responsible for more than a thousand deaths in Utah; 65-year-old Rufino Rodriguez is one of the many victims.

Rodriguez worked as a respiratory therapist in Utah Valley Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for more than 30 years. He also worked on LifeFlight and did a great deal of volunteer work.

READ: Salt Lake City nurse dies of COVID-19 complications

Rodriguez dedicated his life to helping others, his son, whom he shares a name with, Rufino S. Rodriguez, said.

“People say that he was always the last one there — when everyone else ran out of ideas, he was still trying,” he said.

He lit up every room, his son recalled.

“He had this uncanny ability to make everyone feel like they were his favorite. When he was with you, he made you feel like you were his best friend,” he said.

Over the summer, Rodriguez began talking about retirement, but he always had a reason why it wasn’t the right time. The true reason was simple, his son said: COVID-19.

“I knew what he really wanted is that he couldn’t leave his co-workers, his co-workers in their time of need. He couldn’t abandon them when they needed him,” he said.

READ: U of U conducts experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment

As a healthcare worker on the front lines, Rodriguez was one of the first Utahns to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, six days after he received the first dose, his son said he tested positive for the virus.

“Another couple of days and my dad would’ve gotten the second dose, and a couple more days after that and he would’ve, we would be having a different, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said through tears.

Life became one update after another, his son said.

“You see his ventilator settings, and you just see those numbers climbing and climbing and you just know it’s not going well,” he said.

Many people have reached out, saying the world is a darker place without Rodriguez, his son said. While it may feel that way, his light is just shining differently, he said.

“My dad’s light is now spread through everyone. Everyone has a piece of his light in their heart,” he said.

Unfortunately, Rodriguez died from COVID-19. This story should serve as a reminder to everyone to wear a mask, social distance and do everything in their power to help slow the spread of COVID-19, his son said.

“I just think it is really important that we help stop the spread of COVID so that other families don’t have to experience this,” he said.

Rodriguez’s family set up a GoFundMe to raise money for UNICEF, a charity that Rodriguez worked closely with.