Growing up on the North Shore, Reid Hance and Jeff Valair lived just down the road from each other in Edgemont Village.
It was a carefree time to be young. Kids played on the street until dusk. “We’d ride our bikes down to the fish hatchery at 100 miles an hour and be back in time for dinner,” said Valair.
“There was lots of freedom. Lots of seasons for exploring.”
They’d go skiing at Grouse Mountain and swimming at the old William Griffin pool. Hance’s dad, who lived in Squamish, took him hiking on the Chief.
They had snowball fights in the street.
“We could look at each other and laugh about something that nobody else knew was funny,” said Valair.
Friends knew Hance as someone they could count on.
It was a happy childhood, said Valair, despite the tragedy that eventually struck Hance with the early deaths of both parents. “It didn’t stop him from living his life and pursuing his own happiness.”
As an adult, Hance found that happiness when he met his wife, Melissa. Both were working for companies at Vancouver International Airport at the time.
At first, her big Aldergrove family thought of the more reserved Hance as a bit of a “city slicker,” said Melissa. But he soon won them over.
“My dad became his best friend and buddy,” she said, and the two men shared a love of the outdoors.
Reid and Melissa “made a good team,” said friend Stephen Thom.
Handsworth grad found joy as a dad
The couple eventually settled in Tsawwassen. When their two sons, Liam and Luke were born, Hance immediately thrived in the role of being a dad. “He just gave everything to being a father,” said Melissa.
Hance helped to coach soccer and baseball.
“He was super patient,” said Melissa. “He took care of us.”
It was at spring break this year that their lives took a sudden turn, when the family was notified that they’d been exposed to someone in the community with COVID.
“We weren’t out being reckless,” said Melissa. “We weren't doing stupid things.”
Prior to that, her boys had runny noses, but they’d assumed those were likely seasonal allergies. Once they heard they’d been exposed, though, the family went to get tests. Melissa and the two boys tested positive but Reid did not.
They kept him isolated, wearing masks and trying to stay as separate as possible within their home.
While the boys had virtually no symptoms, “I had one day of feeling really sick,” said Melissa.
She didn’t tell people – even her parents – that the family had contracted COVID. “There’s shame associated with it,” she said. Also, “We didn’t want to worry them. You think you’re going to get over it.”
Five days later, Reid started coughing, said Melissa, a nagging cough that wouldn’t go away.
This time, his COVID test came back positive.
COVID symptoms ramped up quickly
His symptoms were worse than hers. He started getting chills. Going up and down stairs tired him out.
Melissa offered to take him to the hospital, but he was adamant he was fine.
Reid, 46, wasn’t someone with underlying health conditions, said Melissa. He biked and watched what he ate.
“He could outrun someone half his age,” she said.
But Reid’s symptoms didn’t seem to be getting better. He had fever and chills and no appetite. He had no energy.
On Tuesday, April 13, they were concerned enough to make a doctor’s appointment for Thursday. They also talked to a nurse on the phone who asked if he felt he needed medical attention. Again, Reid said he didn’t.
Melissa set up Gatorade for her husband to drink and left a humidifier on. She said goodnight and left him sitting on the couch – where he had been finding it more comfortable.
“It’s the only night I didn’t say 'I love you,'” she said. “You think you have tomorrow.”
Widow fights for answers about how husband died so quickly
She found him there the next morning. At first she thought he was sleeping.
But Reid had died that night in his sleep, of COVID, without any warning.
Melissa said afterwards, she had to push hard for anything that would help her understand what had happened – something she doesn’t think is right.
Eventually a post-mortem chest X-ray showed both of Reid’s lungs had been heavily plugged with bilateral pneumonia. “His lungs were completely whited out,” she said.
“My husband’s symptoms escalated so quickly,” said Melissa. Not enough people understand that COVID can attack the young and fit as well as the elderly, she said. “This is how aggressive that COVID is.”
That’s one of the reasons “it was such a big shock,” said Thom. “He was always healthy.”
Thom, another close friend who once worked with Reid at North Vancouver’s Karen Magnussen Arena, said in his current recreation job he still encounters people who believe only “old people” get COVID. That’s not the case, he said.
Up to April 10, the week before Reid died, there had been 34 deaths of people under 50 in B.C., according to B.C.’s Centre for Disease Control. There were also 261 people under 50 with COVID admitted to ICU.
On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province's medical health officer, said there were 38 sudden deaths at home linked to COVID between March 2020 and March 2021.
Sudden COVID deaths at home are being monitored, says Henry
The issue is one that is on the radar of health officials.
Last week, Ontario’s coroner highlighted a troubling trend of people suddenly dying at home of COVID, without ever having called for an ambulance. Those cases, including the recent tragic death of a 13-year-old girl in Brampton, were ones in which people did not seem to be seriously ill but suddenly took a turn for the worse.
In B.C., Henry said on Monday that so far “we have not seen an increase in sudden unexpected deaths related to COVID” but added the coroner’s office is monitoring that.
“We will continue to pay attention.”
That’s cold comfort to Melissa Hance, now raising her two boys without their father.
Friends have started a GoFundMe page to provide financial help to the family.
“I hate that my husband is now a statistic,” said Melissa, adding she hopes people wake up to the need to stop the spread of the virus and that the virus can turn deadly, even for young, healthy people.
“Nobody deserves to go out like this. Especially not Reid.”