Jeffery Michael Keene began exhibiting symptoms in early October, and died of COVID complications weeks later, just two days after his son was born

By Morgan Smith
December 22, 2020 01:21 PM
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Nicole Keene lost her Army Vet husband and gave birth to their premature baby boy in 48 hours
Credit: Gofundme

An Army veteran who was excitedly awaiting the arrival of his second child died of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the same hospital where his newborn son was recovering in the NICU, according to CNN.

Jeffery Michael Keene (who went by his middle name, Michael), 39, first complained to his wife Nicole, a respiratory therapist, that his throat itched in early October.

The pair decided to get tested for coronavirus at the first available appointment near their home in Lexington, Kentucky out of an abundance of caution, CNN reported. Their worst fears came true — Michael tested positive. Nicole, however, tested negative.

At home, Michael’s condition deteriorated fast, and his wife told the outlet that his fever quickly hit 104.5 degrees.

For Michael, a veteran who served in the military for more than 12 years and was deployed for multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, this battle was different than those he'd faced in his past.

Now working as a service specialist at a local car dealership, he and Nicole were parents to daughter Adalynn, 21 months, and were expecting their second child, a boy, in December.

Nicole Keene lost her Army Vet husband and gave birth to their premature baby boy in 48 hours
Jeffery Michael Keene
| Credit: Gofundme

Michael was admitted to the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital in Lexington on Oct. 10, just four days after testing positive, according to a GoFundMe, and he was soon transferred to the ICU. There, he was placed on a ventilator to help him breathe, CNN reported.

"They put him on the BiPAP [machine], [and] his anxiety was very high, very high,” Nicole recalled to CNN. “I mean, he has PTSD. And he just really struggled."

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On Oct. 26, Michael’s doctor called Nicole with an encouraging update: they were removing Michael’s breathing tube. "I thought the worst was over," she said.

Hours later, however, Nicole, who was 34 weeks pregnant, was rushed to the hospital herself after she was unable to feel her baby move.

"I just remember the panic,” she told CNN. “I just remember the doctor coming in and looking at me and saying, 'We're going have to take your baby right now.'”

Michael Wesson Keene was born unresponsive later that day, but after 15 minutes of resuscitation, doctors were able to revive the newborn, according to CNN. When Nicole woke up, she learned that her son was being transferred to a different hospital— the same one where her husband, Michael, was fighting the coronavirus.

Nicole Keene lost her Army Vet husband and gave birth to their premature baby boy in 48 hours
Michael Wesson Keene
| Credit: Gofundme

Doctors advised Nicole not to tell her husband that his baby was close by as to not spike his anxiety.

As she recovered in the hospital, Nicole felt optimistic. Michael’s doctor told her on Oct. 28 that her husband was progressing and that he might be ready to leave the hospital in two weeks and recover in a rehab facility, she told CNN.

He died just hours later after his condition took a turn, and Nicole was there, reportedly covered head-to-toe in personal protective equipment (PPE), to hold his hand.

"I just felt everything, all of our dreams, everything just like came out of me,” she recalled. “I could just see our whole life just slipping away."

Nicole Keene lost her Army Vet husband and gave birth to their premature baby boy in 48 hours
Nicole Keene at home with her daughter and son.
| Credit: Nicole Keene

According to a GoFundMe arranged for the family, Michael did not have any pre-existing conditions.

Baby Michael spent five weeks in the ICU before he was allowed to come home. He relies on an oxygen tank. According to CNN, doctors told Nicole the baby has a brain injury, and are monitoring him for developments.

More than $99,000 has been raised to support Nicole and her children through a GoFundMe set up by the Keenes’s family friend, Nick Sortor.

PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to provide avenues for our readers to pay it forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information about Causes — hubs that bring charities, individuals, donors and corporate partners together to help people in need — visit GoFundMe.

Michael was reportedly buried in South Carolina’s Fort Jackson National Cemetery near his parents’ home. Nicole told CNN she’s considering moving to South Carolina to be closer to Michael and her in-laws.

"There's a lot of guilt, like just living every day," Nicole told the outlet. "Even that I'm here and he's not and the kids...just without their dad, growing up without him. He was an amazing man, amazing father."

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.