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Gary Lee Neighbors, 57, a long-time firefighter and volunteer, died a tragic, preventable death, his family said.
If more people who were around Neighbors on a regular basis had worn masks, he may still be alive, said Kyra Neighbors, his wife, now a widow.
Neighbors tested positive Nov. 8. It was mild at the outset, but took a turn for the worst about two weeks in. She had thought her husband was getting better, and she was hopeful after both she and her daughter recovered, she said.
But on Nov. 20, things took a turn. They took him to a southside hospital, but staff discharged him because they did not believe he was sick enough to be admitted at the time, Kyra Neighbors said.
For eight days after that, he complained of breathing problems, but the family couldn’t find an at-home oximeter in stock anywhere to monitor his levels accurately. Then, they measured his oxygen levels using the Samsung Health smartphone app and discovered that it was only 84% — about 10 points below normal.
They knew they had to get him back to the hospital. But by then, he was so weak he couldn’t make it to the car, Kyra Neighbors said. He didn’t have the heart and lung capacity left to get there. Gary Neighbors died on the family’s couch from heart and lung failure caused by COVID-19, she said.
Neighbors, of Morgantown, left behind his wife and four children, Johnny, Lynsie, Katie and Kristie, and two grandchildren. But his impact extended far beyond his family, Kyra Neighbors said.
He was a 24-year volunteer firefighter, who served with the Warren Township, New Whiteland and Whiteland fire departments. He brought the now-beloved tradition of the Santa Parade to the local towns, and loved seeing the kids’ faces light up, she said.
As his children grew up, he gave back to the community by volunteering with their activities, helping out with Franklin-area 4-H, Future Farmers of America, Girl Scouts and little league.
He would do anything for his children, his daughter Lynsie Neighbors said. At the start of the pandemic, Gary dropped off a box of N95 masks for Lynsie, a nursing student in her last semester, to protect her while she works. At the time, she was touched by her father’s generosity and hoped he saved some for himself, she said.