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Pictured are the late Tex Walton and his daughters, Pamela Johnston, at left, and Sheila Perry, at right. Walton passed away Oct. 20, 2020, and the sisters have since raised money to donate 16 iPads, tablets and video-chatting devices to hospitals in north-central West Virginia. / Photo courtesy Sheila Perry

Tex Walton’s daughters donate 16 tablet devices to hospitals in north-central West Virginia in his honor

BUCKHANNON – Pain and swelling would always follow when Pam Johnston stepped out into the sunlight, blinking furiously, after getting shots in her eyes at the Morgantown doctor’s office.

Her dad, Tex Walton, would always patiently, lovingly guide her back to their vehicle after those shots.

“He would say, ‘I got you, babe,’ and rub my hand and walk me to the car,” Johnston said. “He always tried to take care of us, and that’s why it was so hard that I couldn’t be there with Dad saying, ‘I got you.’ The iPad was the only thing we had to connect with Dad.”

When 77-year-old Tex Walton – a kind-hearted, straight-shooting, churchgoing, guitar-playing, gun and bow-hunting father, husband, Christian, brother and grandfather – passed away from COVID-19 on Oct. 20, 2020, he was only the second Upshur County resident to die from the disease. A longtime employee of Moore’s Business Forms, Upshur County residents may have known him from his ownership of T.W. Bow Shop and later, Tex’s Gun & Pawn Shop.

Tex Walton / Photo courtesy Sheila Perry

Walton’s daughters, Sheila Perry and Pam Johnston, said not being able to say goodbye in person was excruciatingly painful.

But what would have been even more unbearable, they said, is missing the chance to say goodbye at all, a scenario that, unlike some families of COVID-19 patients, they didn’t have to face. Thanks to Johnston’s iPhone, one hospital iPad split between about a dozen ICU rooms and the kindness of a young nurse named Dona’e, Perry and Johnston were able to communicate with their dad before he died. And although he was often unable to actually speak, the sisters say knowing he was able to see them brings some comfort.

Since Walton was life-flighted to Ruby Memorial, suffered an onslaught of COVID complications and eventually passed away, Perry and Johnston have been on a mission to place as many iPads and Android tablets in COVID-19/intensive care units at hospitals as possible.

As of this week, they’ve donated a total of 16 devices with real-time video-chatting capabilities, including eight to Ruby Memorial Hospital, where their father passed; two to United Hospital Center in Harrison County; two to St. Joseph’s Hospital; two to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital in Lewis County; and most recently, two to Davis Medical Center in Elkins.

The money came from of donations from family, friends and even some benevolent strangers through a GoFundMe page.

So, why iPads and tablets? As their father’s condition worsened at Ruby, Perry and Johnston had been shocked by the lack of availability of devices that would allow COVID-19 patients to video-chat in real-time with their loved ones.

“At the time, there was only one iPad or tablet going back-and-forth between 10 or 12 COVID rooms,” Johnston recalled. “We would want to talk to Dad, but the iPad would be somewhere else … but the nurse we had, Don’ae – she was just amazing, and she would use her own iPhone to try to get us on with him as much as she could.”

Perry estimates her family clocked about 12 minutes of FaceTime with Walton before he passed.

“In our family (before he got sick), we had this joke because I would make the heart symbol for ‘I love you’ to Dad, and he couldn’t get it right. He would always do it upside down … so that was always a funny thing, a joke in our family,” Perry said. “So, on the 14th, we video-chatted with him because they were getting ready to intubate him.”

Perry said that day, her father couldn’t speak, but he could wave — and he could hold his hands in an upside-down heart.

“In his videos, he would do that,” she said, tearing up. “I would tell him I loved him, and he couldn’t talk, so he would do that. It’s little things like that, that keep us going. We feel, honestly, that even though those are hard memories, they’re our last memories, and not having them would be so much harder. If there’s one thing I wish, it’s that I could’ve had a device on him more so I could have been with him more.”

St. Joseph’s Hospital CEO Skip Gjolberg receives a donation of one iPad and one Android tablet from Sheila Perry, Tex Walton’s daughter; NinaMae Coberly, Walton’s granddaughter; Pam Johnston, Walton’s daughter; and Janet Philips, R.N.,
Director of Acute and Critical Care Units/ Photo courtesy Sheila Perry

Walton’s daughters said medical staff would say seeing them improved his spirits – and even his vital statistics.

“We were told that every time we would talk to him, his oxygen level would go up, and you could see that he was fighting more because he had that encouragement that we were still there and he knew we were thinking about him and praying with him,” Johnston said. “That’s what I think we wanted to give other families. We knew first-hand what it felt like for us [to communicate with him], and it was also a benefit for Dad.”

Perry said Walton’s heart rate would increase when he saw his daughters and grandchildren through FaceTime.

“It was almost like it gave him the will to fight,” she said. “It kept him from going into depression. His main nurse at Ruby, Dona’e, was awesome. She went far above and beyond what she needed to do. When we cried, she cried. When we prayed, we could hear her praying with us. At the end, she said ‘Amazing Grace’ with us.”

Perry and Johnston had initially set out to raise money for iPad and tablet donations to just Ruby Memorial Hospital, but now their undertaking has expanded, and they’re cobbling together money to purchase devices that can be sent to Mon General Hospital in Morgantown, Charleston Area Medical Center in Kanawha County and hospitals across the Mountain State.

“The Bible tells us that God’s Word will not come back void, and it’s going to make an impression somewhere,” Perry said. “If it just helps one person from going into depression or if it gives one person the will to fight, it’s worth all the time and effort. Some people have told me it’s a ministry that no one has ever thought of. If you want to look at it as a ministry, that’s fine – I just know that’s what I need to do in my heart.”

Jennie Raines, Sheila Perry, Alyica Kline, NinaMae Coberly, Pamela Johnston, and Michael Bell
Jennie Raines, Sheila Perry, Alyica Kline, NinaMae Coberly, Pamela Johnston and Michael Bell. / Photo courtesy Davis Medical Center

When Walton’s sister, Dolores Loudin, became ill from COVID and passed away earlier this week, it was like reliving the same nightmare, and they felt helpless.

So, the sisters have an unequivocal message for people: Wear a mask.

“Wear a mask – it could save a life,” Perry said. Whether it’s a fabric mask, a surgical or K N95 mask, “or even a piece of cloth, it’s something,” Perry said.

“I’ve been told this is political. It’s not, and this is what I keep telling everyone: The inauguration is over, so let’s meet at Dad’s grave, and you tell him to wake up and get out of the box and come home because we miss him,” she said, crying. “It’s real and it can be very serious, and we need to protect everyone. I just don’t want to see any family go through it. Losing a parent is the hardest thing. I know losing a child is, too, but losing a parent is just so tough, and the isolation makes it worse.”

Johnston echoed Perry’s warning.

“Wear your mask, stay six feet apart, and do whatever you can to protect yourself and your community,” she said. “We didn’t take this seriously at first, and we had to suffer the worst consequences, and here we are going through it again with losing another family member. A lot of people think masks are a joke, but if you can take that precaution and that precaution protects or saves even one life, why wouldn’t you?”

Donations to purchase iPads and tablets may be made online at this GoFundMe page or by mailing a check to Sheila Perry at 253 Eagle St., Buckhannon, WV 26201. Note ‘iPad donation’ in the memo line.

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