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Faces of COVID: Grandfather dies after catching COVID at nursing home where granddaughter works

Beloved by large family
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Posted at 6:11 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 19:07:24-05

Thousands of Hoosiers have died since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020 and we know — they're more than just numbers. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 and want to share their story reach out to us at FacesOfCovid@wrtv.com.

James Scharfenberger was the kind of grandfather who you could always count on to show up.

“He attended everything that we did, he was so supportive,” said Christine Scharfenberger, James’ granddaughter.

At 85 years old he was still working, albeit from home, and active in his community. Scharfenberger served as president of his condo community’s council, was an avid Bears fan and wouldn’t miss a chance to tell you about his German heritage.

At the end of 2019, Scharfenberger had some heart trouble. He was taken to the hospital for congestive heart failure. After his treatment, he went to a rehabilitation facility to continue being cared for until he made a full recovery. His granddaughter, Christine, is a nurse at the home he was staying at.

Christine says at first it was wonderfun having him there, "One of my fellow nurses said you're all of our grandpa... everybody just loved him."

But then when COVID-19 hit in March, everything changed. Suddenly, no one from the family could come by, and Christine was her grandfather’s only loved one he could see.

“Nobody could visit him so at least he had somebody there that he knew and I could have somebody meet him at the window to at least see him,” said Christine.

Those window visits by his wife and other family members, would end up being their last. In May of 2020, an outbreak of COVID-19 spread like wildfire through the home.

Christine ended up catching the virus, adamant to keep her distance from her grandfather’s room.

But despite her best efforts, Scharfenberger caught COVID-19. He did not have any symptoms but tested positive. Staff transferred him to a nearby hospital for treatment.

“He was on a vent and the doctor had told my grandma there was a 0-1% chance of him surviving,” said Christine. But as a nurse, she had seen many people recover and tried to keep her grandma thinking positive, “I remember calling my grandma that morning, like people are surviving people are doing ok, don’t worry and I’ll never forget that two days later, that was it.”

Just two days after learning he had COVID-19, James Scharfenberger passed away at the hospital. It was May 16th, four days before his 86th birthday.

Christine says her grandfather is one of nearly 40 residents who died from COVID-19 at the facility she works at.

“Unfortunately I hate to say but we got used to it. There was just so much death and destruction in the world at the time,” said Christine, “This was my grandpa, but I have worked there for 8 years and I was close to a lot of people there. It’s a rough time.”

Christine wants people to remember her grandfather for who he was, strong and loving, not for what he died from.

“Just don’t forget that these are people, this is people’s grandma, grandpa, son, daughter that we’re taken by this disease,” said Christine.

MORE STORIES | We're honoring the memories of these Hoosiers who died with COVID-19