How the coronavirus left Orange County-based grieving husband and father inside 6 weeks – Lengthy Seaside Press Telegram
Donna Nakahara's recent phone calls with her mother-in-law Yasuko Nakahara have not been easy.
The couple always had a lot to talk about and still do. But now they are sobbing, comforting each other and discussing what they have lost.
Donna Nakahara's husband – Yasuko Nakahara's son – is dead.
From the coronavirus.
"It's been hard, but you can't turn back time," said Donna Nakahara, a Garden Grove resident, on the phone last week. “My mother-in-law is like me. We live day after day and wish this wasn't true. "
Glen Nakahara, the beloved music teacher at Jackie Robinson Academy in Long Beach, died on July 26th at Los Alamitos Medical Center. He was 61 years old.
And for the Nakahara family, it was the last blow the coronavirus dealt them: Donna Nakahara tested positive for COVID-19 while her husband was in intensive care, and although she eventually recovered, she temporarily had her teenage daughter send Sammi to stay with a family friend to protect her from the virus. And six weeks before her husband died, Donna Nakahara lost her father, 89-year-old Atsushi Taguchi, to the coronavirus.
Donna Nakahara's husband and father represent two of the thousands of lives the coronavirus has struck across the country since the pandemic began in March.
More than 780 people have died from coronavirus complications in Orange County. In densely populated Los Angeles County, the death toll is staggering – more than 5,200 and it's counting.
In recent months, much of the attention has been focused on climbing statistics – case and death rates, positivity rate, hospital stays – and the people who died in isolation in hospital beds.
Often overlooked, however, are the people the virus leaves behind.
"It just doesn't seem real," said Donna Nakahara. “He was such a wonderful man, son, husband, father, teacher and friend.
"He was young at heart," she added. "I miss him so much."
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The Nakahara family, like countless others, has had a hard time lately.
A year ago, Donna Nakahara's 35-year-old friend – Tak Nakamura, who was also her long-time boss at a warehouse and warehouse service provider – died of a heart attack.
And then there was a coronavirus pandemic in March. When schools closed, Glen Nakahara, a 30-year-old music teacher and lifelong trumpeter who performed in marching bands and at the 1984 Summer Olympics, was withheld from personally teaching his students, a struggle for him. Sammi, her daughter – a sociable boy and basketball player – could no longer see her friends.
Then tragedy struck.
Donna Nakahara's father, who lived in a nursing home, died on June 11 of complications from the coronavirus. The family held his funeral more than two weeks later.
The family mourned. Donna Nakahara lost her father. Glen Nakahara lost his father-in-law. Sammi lost her beloved grandfather.
"She called him 'Jiichan', Japanese for grandfather," said Donna Nakahara of her daughter's special relationship with Taguchi. "They teased each other a lot."
While Donna Nakahara mourned her father, she continued to worry about her husband.
He had underlying illnesses – like the vast majority of those who die from the coronavirus – including high blood pressure and diabetes.
"He had severe pneumonia four years ago," said Donna Nakahara, "and then we almost lost him."
And like pneumonia, COVID-19 is a respiratory disease.
Even so, Glen Nakahara seemed cautious: he worked online and even wore a mask around the house.
But then, on July 8th, something happened.
“I knew something was wrong,” said Donna Nakahara, “when he was drinking lemon and tea because of a sore throat.
"He texted me for Tylenol," she added.
Glen Nakahara's symptoms worsened. Ten days later, on July 18, the family called paramedics.
Sammi helped her father into the ambulance and he drove to Los Alamitos Medical Center.
It was the last time the family was together.
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At that time, Donna Nakahara was also feeling sick.
On the same day, the ambulance took her husband to Los Alamitos Medical Center. She also went there and was tested for the coronavirus under a tent in the parking lot.
She had it.
Donna Nakahara had a choice: go to the hospital with her husband, or recover from home in self-isolation.
She chose the latter.
She also sent Sammi to a friend of her family who would take her on a short vacation to Orlando, Florida, during this time.
While Donna Nakahara was isolated at home, memories flooded her.
She met Glen Nakahara in a bowling alley. She was 20 and he was eight years older than her.
"At first we were just friends," said Donna Nakahara. "We played a lot of bowling together in tournaments and I met him."
The two, she said, go well together.
"It just seemed a natural thing," she added. "One day he asked me," What kind of ring do you want? "
They married on June 24, 2000.
Two months later, Glen Nakahara began teaching at Jackie Robinson Academy, another fit for the seasoned musician.
Glen Nakahara fell in love with music early on. When he was about 12 years old, a neighbor brought a trumpet into his house for him to try. He would play the instrument for the rest of his life.
After graduating from Santiago High School in Garden Grove, Glen Nakahara went to Cal State Long Beach, where he played in the marching band. He graduated in 1981, eight years before his future wife, a native of Gardena, also graduated from there.
Glen Nakahara was also the lead trumpeter on the Disneyland Parade and was even in a band for a while.
A career highlight was in 1984 when he played the trumpet at the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics at the Los Angeles Coliseum. On the set list was a permanent trumpet piece called "Fanfare Olympique" by legendary Star Wars composer John Williams.
But in the end, teaching was his real passion.
He spent a decade at Lindbergh Middle School in Long Beach before moving to Jackie Robinson Academy – where he spent the last two decades of his life.
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Donna Nakahara looked at her husband through a screen.
Something was wrong. Glen Nakahara was on a ventilator. Hospital officials had called Donna Nakahara to ask if she would give FaceTime to her husband.
It was around 2:30 p.m. on July 26th, a Sunday, when she was talking to her husband.
"When he came," said Donna Nakahara, "I told him how much we all loved him and that we shouldn't worry about ourselves, but take care of ourselves."
Then the machine doctors hooked it up to beep.
By then, said Donna Nakahara, things would have improved.
Although she suffered from several symptoms based on her own diagnosis. She lost her sense of smell and taste, developed a cough, her joints ached, and she had a fever.
But the fever broke after a few days.
Donna Nakahara checked into the hospital at 10 a.m. every day and those treating her husband said there were encouraging signs – including on July 25.
She started cleaning the house and prepared for Glen Nakahara to return home.
Then came Sunday. Then came a call.
"I will never forget it," she said. “It was 12:54 pm. I was told he had side effects from Propofol Infusion Syndrome. "
Propofol infusion syndrome is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by prolonged use of the anesthetic.
"They asked me if I wanted to FaceTime with him around 2:30 am," Donna Nakahara recalled. "" Does that mean ", I asked her," that something was wrong? "You said yes."
The caretakers at Glen Nakahara told his wife he was on a ventilator but shouldn't worry about his appearance. He could hear her, she reassured Donna Nakahara.
But when she spoke to him, Glen Nakahara made a flat line.
"The machine started beeping," said Donna Nakahara, "and he went into cardiac arrest."
The doctors, she said, were trying to keep him alive. But about 15 minutes later, Glen Nakahara was dead. It was a month after the couple's 20th wedding anniversary.
"I couldn't believe it," said Donna Nakahara. "Within a day he went from good signs to dying."
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Donna Nakahara had to mourn the death of a second loved one in six weeks.
But she had one more ordeal to endure: telling Sammi that her father was dead.
Sammi was still in Orlando and Donna Nakahara didn't want to reveal the tragedy over the phone.
Sammie, the couple's only child, was born on December 17, 2005.
Sammi, said Donna Nakahara, was "Daddy's little girl".
Glen Nakahara loved watching her play basketball and did everything to make her happy. They were inseparable.
They loved the Los Angeles Lakers, saw them on television – and even got to watch in person as they beat the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
The Nakaharas as a family also loved camping and went to Mammoth every year.
So Donna Nakahara wanted to be there for her daughter personally. She was waiting to tell Sammi about her father.
Sammi returned from Orlando on July 31, and Donna Nakahara brought the news.
But, said Donna Nakahara, her daughter is strong and has handled it well – and continues to handle it.
"We raised her to be independent and confident," said Donna Nakahara of her daughter. “She's more worried about me.
"She says we should stay busy," added Donna Nakahara. "I don't know what I would do without her."
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The Nakahara family tried to follow Sammi's advice by staying busy while cherishing the memory of their patriarch.
They are planning a private memorial service for Glen Nakahara on Saturday, August 22nd.
Donna Nakahara speaks regularly to her mother-in-law, comforts her and receives solace in return. Sammi, who will soon be starting her first year at Los Alamitos High.
The family will "keep busy and move forward," said Donna Nakahara, "just as he wants us to."
However, the coronavirus has not just punched a hole in the Nakahara family. One was also created in an entire school community.
Glen Nakahara had been frustrated trying to teach music online that spring, his widow said, but he had been looking forward to the new school year – his 21st at Jackie Robinson Academy on Pine Avenue in Long Beach.
He was so popular at school that teachers, parents, students, and administrators paid a virtual tribute to him last week – sharing memories of him.
Grace Castro, a reading specialist at the school, said Glen Nakahara made the best chocolate cake dessert with whipped cream at the academy's annual potluck dinner.
Others talked about how Glen Nakahara touched the lives of thousands of students with his caring manner. A former student said he would visit the teacher every time he returned from college. One parent said Glen Nakahara could teach any subject.
"He loved this school and we are all broken with his loss," said headmaster Salvadore Madrigal. "He left so many memories and a wonderful legacy."
But now the Jackie Robinson Academy – its teachers, students, and parents – must move forward without him. Students will take exams and do homework and eventually graduate. The teachers will train their students.
And the Nakahara family must also carry on.
You will move forward because Glen Nakahara would expect this from his family.
However, there is only progress left for the Nakahara family and the thousands of others the coronavirus has left behind.
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Glen Nakahara is survived by his wife Donna Nakahura and daughter Sammi Nakahura. Mother Yasuko Nakahara; Sister Karen Yoshikawa and husband Kenneth; Brother Rick Nakahara and his wife Denise; two other brothers-in-law, Roy Yoshida and Wayne Taguchi; and four nephews, two nieces and one great-nephew.
A long time family friend, Kelley Ikeda, has started a GoFundMe page for the family. The fundraiser has already more than doubled its $ 10,000 goal. To donate, go to gofundme.com and search for "Donna Nakahara in Loving Memory of Glen Nakahara".