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Donna Garvey, who died of COVID-19, never let early hearing loss slow her down


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When Donna Garvey was a schoolgirl, she fell off a slide during recess and tumbled headfirst into the concrete below, fracturing her skull.

As she recovered, Donna discovered she’d lost a portion of her hearing due to the accident.

While she struggled with that loss for the rest of her life, Donna didn’t let those difficulties slow her down. She learned to play piano and organ, and became a gifted writer, penning her own short stories and poems.

She became so adept at the written word that she would edit any magazines or pamphlets she could get her hands on, giggling to herself when she found a misprint or a spelling error.

Donna was found dead in her bed on Christmas morning. Doctors told the family that she had likely stopped breathing while asleep. A coronavirus test conducted at the funeral home showed Donna was positive for COVID-19 at the time of her death. 

“I still talk to her every day,” her daughter, Kayla Mathis, said of her mother.

“I have become friends with a few people who are complete strangers to me, but my mom was very online friendly and met people from all over,” she continued. “She has friends in other countries and sometimes they will message me.”

Due to her hearing loss, Donna attended a vocational rehabilitation school in Iowa. She could read lips and hear a little, Kayla said, but couldn’t understand what was being said.

Iowa Mourns: The Iowans we've lost to COVID-19

In addition to writing, Donna passed her time by reading voraciously. Once, she even read a phone book from cover to cover.

Donna always “found a way to keep in touch” despite her communication issues, said Lynn Rohr Cozad, a close friend for more than four decades.

“She was my one true and loyal friend,” Lynn said. “It’s rare to have that kind of friendship these days … any days.”

Kayla and her mother talked about everything, and, unfailingly, Donna had a Bible verse or a song to make her daughter feel better when she was down.

“She always had an answer for everything,” Kayla said. “If there was no real good answer she would say to pray. She was very big into Christianity, although she never went to church.”

About a week before her death, Donna became a grandmother again when her other daughter, Jessamarie Garvey, gave birth to a little girl.

In one of her last Facebook posts, Donna wrote that her new grandchild was 8 days old.

“I've never even been in the same room with her, much less held her," she wrote. "It's so frustrating.”

Tragically, Donna would never get to meet her granddaughter.

This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at ccrowder@dmreg.com.

Iowans lost to COVID-19

The following deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 600 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.

Betty Garner, 76, Sioux City. Loved to wear sparkly blouses and hats.

Marie Heiar, 51, Dubuque. Ran a home daycare with her mother for many years.

Jerry Hicks, 86, Sioux City. Met Babe Ruth in Sioux City when he was 7 years old.

Megan Trilk, 56, Sioux City. An award-winning photographer who chronicled her children's live in pictures.