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Cancer survivor forced to say goodbye to her six kids with walkie-talkie moments before succumbing to coronavirus

Sundee Rutter, 42, a breast cancer survivor, died on March 16 just weeks after contracting the deadly virus
UPDATED MAR 31, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As the deadly novel coronavirus continues to claim more lives in the US, several heartbreaking stories of victims have come to light. One such story is that of a single mother of six children bidding farewell to them using a walkie-talkie.

Sundee Rutter, 42, a breast cancer survivor from Snohomish County, Washington state, died on March 16 just weeks after contracting the coronavirus.

The 42-year-old woman was admitted to Providence Regional Medical Center on March 3 after displaying coronavirus-related symptoms. The hospital is known to have treated the first known case of coronavirus, according to BuzzFeed News.

Sundee's son Elijah Ross-Rutter, 20, spent eight hours with her in a sealed room while hospital staff treated her wearing full protective suits.

"They don’t even want to touch my mom," Elijah recalled, adding he was allowed to see her with a face mask on. The mother-of-six was sent home the same day.

"She thought she had the flu, probably," Ross-Rutter said. "But like, the coronavirus? It was kind of hard for us to understand how she could get it because not that many people had it around here."

But Rutter and her son returned to the hospital four days later, where doctors examined her while Elijah waited in the visiting area.

Sundee was suffering from pneumonia, doctors told him a few hours later, and that she would be kept at the hospital overnight. She tested positive for coronavirus the following day.

Elijah remembered how "for a while, she was able to text." She told him she was feeling "much better" on March 12.

But as the days passed, her texts eventually became limited to emoticons with barely any words.

"She was sending me hearts on the messages but she wasn’t replying," Ross-Rutter said.

Finally, the doctors summoned the family to the hospital on March 16. As Sundee lay in her bed, Elijah, his five siblings, and his mother's sister watched her from a small glass window.

Elijah assured his mother that he would look after the family, as Sundee was just moments away from her death.

Using a hand-held radio whose receiver was placed next to Sundee's pillow, her children said goodbye to her for one last time.

"I told her I love her ... she shouldn’t worry about the kids," Elijah said.

According to the 20-year-old, the most difficult was part was not being able to be in the same room with his mother as she passed away.

"Like, I’m about to lose my best friend and she can’t even hear me," the devastated son recalled. 

Sundee Rutter's story made waves across the country, and hundreds showed their support for the family with donations upward of $275,000. The funds will be used by the Rutters to secure housing for themselves as the oldest sibling, Tyree Rutter, 24, completes his last year at Central Washington University.

“Like it’s crazy how much love and support we’ve been receiving from the community,” Elijah remarked. “It kind of goes to show how big of an impact my mom had on our community.”