PASCO COUNTY, FL — There’s one family photo that captures Renee Dermott’s effervescent spirit. It’s an unguarded moment during a family fall trip up north as she grabs up a pile of colorful fall leaves and tosses them into the air, laughing as the leaves rain down on her.
Her family said that photo exemplifies her love of life, a quality she brought to her career as a school teacher for nearly 20 years.
“She loved her kids. She loved her husband. She loved her home. She loved teaching,” said Madalyn Ziongas, one of Dermott’s two daughters. She was always the first to arrive at school and the last to leave, said the family now grappling with grief.
The 51-year-old New Port Richey resident had just begun teaching at Seven Springs Middle School last fall — first teaching English language arts and then American history — when the pandemic was declared and schools closed.
Like her fellow teachers, Dermott hunkered down at home, holding her family close and keeping in touch with her students online as she waited for the “all-clear” signal to return to the classroom.
During that time —whether it was a quick trip to the grocery store, a chance meeting with a neighbor on an evening walk or an outing with her family — the vivacious school teacher came into contact with someone who had the coronavirus.
Her daughter, Nikki Dermott, finds it ironic. She said her mother was aware of the seriousness of the coronavirus and took every precaution to protect herself and her family.
“My mother was the biggest neat freak germaphobe,” she said.
Still, the virus managed to find Renee Dermott.
Renee Dermott’s symptoms weren’t the mild ones experienced by many of the people who contract the virus — a cough, headache, sore throat, fatigue.
Dermott soon began having difficulty breathing, which turned into pneumonia. On July 13, she was placed in the intensive care unit at Medical Center of Trinity.
“It was out of our control,” Nikki Dermott said. “My mom was in anguish.”
Nikki Dermott chronicled her mother’s battle with the coronavirus on her Facebook page.
“I don’t ever ask for this and it’s not for me; it’s for her. My beautiful mother, my awesome mom, I love you so much. I need prayers. I never usually believed if they worked or not but if they do, I need them. She needs them,” wrote Nikki Dermott on July 16. “I need the people I love and the people she loves to send as much love as they can.”
Dermott described her mother as “very anxious and nervous and stressed” while in the hospital, but felt she was in good hands.
“She has so many great nurses to help take care of her and help her to get better. So far, it has been promising and I’m extremely hopeful. Right now the biggest problem is her breathing, so I am asking for people to tell her she needs to breathe, and she will walk out of here and tell everyone she beat it,” said Nikki Dermott.
On July 17, Nikki Dermott sounded a bit more optimistic.
“Currently my mom is still in ICU and has had great nurses taking the absolute best care of her, and I am so grateful for them,” said Nikki Dermott. “Today has been a great day. She is currently operating on high-flow oxygen. Her oxygen saturation is in the 90s, which is amazing. They haven’t had her on a BiPAP (a breathing machine) today, and he (the doctor) said hopefully going into the evening she won’t need it to sleep with. She has more energy. They are fully confident she will recover and her breathing will start to get much better in the coming days.”
Nikki Dermott credited the thoughts and prayers from her mother’s many friends and students with the improvement in her condition.
“I personally believe she was helped by the love, prayers and virtual hugs sent her way all day,” she said. “All of the kids have reached out, and they’re beside themselves. To everyone who has reached out personally, you have touched us. We as a family have been so, so grateful. From the bottom of our hearts, the outpouring is unbelievable.”
Among those who reached out was fellow teacher Tanya Murphy, whose son was a student in Dermott’s class. Hoping to negate any financial concerns the Dermott family might have during Renee McDermott’s hospitalization, Murphy set up a GoFundMe page for Dermott. In just three days, more than 400 people donated $13,277.
“All the kids adore her,” Murphy said of Dermott. “She’s lots of fun. She’s high energy. She’s kind of got that goofy thing going on that kids can relate to. She has seen many Trinity/NPR kiddos walk through her classroom doors and has shown love to all of them. Now it’s our turn to show love to her.”
Nikki Dermott’s hope held strong Saturday when she posted another update on her mother.
“This is a small story with a huge impact and it just goes to show how much you may think you don’t make a difference and you do,” said Nikki Dermott. “Mom, you are living proof that love can drown out darkness. I know when she gets out, she will help touch even more lives and realize how much love this world has in it. From a daughter waiting for her mother to come home, I’ve cried over and over. I’m never going to forget this and I know she won’t. I know in my heart she is ready to see everyone again. To hug and laugh more with all of us and her loved ones and to BREATHE. Life is too short for us all. I’m eternally grateful.”
Nikki Dermott also shared a photo of her mother lying in her hospital bed, face covered by a ventilator as she gave her daughter a thumbs-up sign.
“This was her today. She is up. Her energy is up. Her breathing is better. My mom will get to come home and I will never (maybe) argue with her again until she is 100,” said Nikki Dermott.
Nearly 500 people reacted to the photo Nikki Dermott posted on her Facebook page at 7:59 p.m. Saturday.
Then Nikki Dermott’s posts abruptly stopped.
On Sunday, it was Murphy who shared the tragic news of Renee Dermott’s death.
“Renee passed away today,” Murphy said in a brief message on the GoFundMe page “Please wrap her precious family in your thoughts and prayers as they try to navigate this awful time.”
As Renee Dermott’s husband, John, and children say their final goodbyes, Nikki Dermott sent a final message to all those who knew and loved her mother.
“My only request is to please take a piece of her with you,” Nikki Dermott said. “Please don’t let her die away. I don’t know if my heart can take it. If she has a memory with you, take it, use it, spread it to someone you love.”
She also urged people to cherish and enjoy their loved ones during these uncertain times.
“You never know when they will leave you forever in this life,” she said.
This article originally appeared on the New Port Richey Patch