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Kentucky doctor who urged mask-wearing early on dies after 4-month battle with Covid-19

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Dr. Rebecca Shadowen was 62 years old when she died on September 11 at the Medical Center at Bowling Green in Kentucky where she was on staff. She was a specialist in infectious diseases and health care epidemiology, and helped establish the medical center’s coronavirus unit.

She is now one of the more than 200,000 Americans who have died due to Covid-19. The death toll has surpassed the number of American combat deaths in the country’s five most recent wars combined.

Her husband, Dr. David Shadowen, and their two children, 23-year-old twins Kathryn and Jesse, appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 to talk about the woman they called the glue of their family.

“She was easily one of the smartest, most driven people I knew. She kind of taught me who I wanted to be as a person,” Kathryn said. “She always said to have the grace to let people be who they are and really believed and lived out the idea of treating everyone how you’d want to be treated.”

“She was a person that didn’t take a lot of crap. She knew what she was talking about when it came to her field and when it came to a lot of other things. She was someone that I really trusted and I think she’s someone that a lot of people trusted,” Jesse said.

David met his late wife while they attended Western Kentucky University, and they married after their first year of medical school at the University of Louisville. While David fell into the medical field, Rebecca always knew she wanted to be a doctor.

“She was very good. At age 15, she was working in a doctor’s office doing various things, like a medical assistant type of job,” David said. “Doing X-Rays and things like that.”

Son was the only family member to avoid infection

Back in May, David’s mother had been ill and had people coming into her home caring for her and just helping her out. A few days after one of those visits, a caretaker was diagnosed with Covid-19.

On May 7, David’s mother was diagnosed with Covid-19.

On May 11, both David and Kathryn were diagnosed with Covid-19.

On May 12, Rebecca was diagnosed with Covid-19.

David’s mom, who is 90 years old now, spent five days in the hospital and a few more weeks in a rehabilitation facility and is doing well.

Jesse, the only person in the family who did not get infected, said he spent significant time with both his grandmother and his mother when they were presumably contagious.

“The day that my mom was diagnosed, I was the one that drove her to the hospital and sat in the car with her for 45 minutes to an hour,” he said. “I had plenty of chances to catch it and never did.”

David said his wife knew coronavirus was a risk to her own health. But she wanted to continue helping others. When David retired two years ago, he advised his wife to do the same, but she didn’t want to.

“She enjoyed taking care of patients and working in the hospital, and she stayed on doing just that,” he said. “She knew that being in health care was a risk but she wanted to do that.”

He said Rebecca enjoyed taking care of patients and working with her colleagues as well as teaching medical students and resident physicians.

“It was really what she lived for, was working the field of medicine,” David said.

‘Wear a mask in her honor’

Dennis Chaney, who served on the Bowling Green-Warren County Coronavirus Task Force with Rebecca, told CNN affiliate WBKO that even from her hospital bed, she was calling in to make sure the task force was protecting the community to the highest degree.

“She’s still speaking that drive into us, and I think that that’s her legacy,” Chaney told WBKO. “I think her pursuit of excellence in all things — she just instilled that in us.”

Kathryn said her mother had always been that way, even before Covid-19.

“Working in infectious disease and willing to put everyone’s needs in front of herself, whether it was her patients or us as her kids, she took care of everybody that she could,” Kathryn said.

Before Bowling Green even had their first case of coronavirus, Rebecca was encouraging others to wear masks regularly and stay out of crowds.

When her death was announced, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a Twitter post that he was heartbroken by the news of her passing.

“Please, follow Dr. Shadowen’s advice — wear a mask in her honor,” Beshear said.

The family held a smaller funeral service than they otherwise would have and practiced social distancing at the visitation. Rebecca would’ve wanted it done that way, her husband said.

“I think if she was here, she would very much encourage people to wear a mask whenever they’re in public, that they should social distance always, avoid the large crowds, and this fall, when the flu vaccine comes out, please take it because you wouldn’t want to get those two diseases at the same time,” David said.

When a coronavirus vaccine does come out, David said his son will be “first in line” to get it if he hasn’t had it by then.

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