WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Her name was Kitty Richardson, but to the many people who knew and loved her, she was simply known as Ms. Kitty.
The vibrant, feisty, and often times flamboyant 80-year-old was known throughout the Wilmington Community as a woman who would give you the shirt off her back. Whether she was assisting her daughter, Regina Richardson Hawse, with the annual Epicurean Gala that raises money for the Methodist Home for Children or offering food to families strapped financially by the pandemic, she always had a helping heart.
“Ms. Kitty was always full of energy, and had a zest for life,” says her daughter Regina. “She was a bright light to everyone who knew her. She was always ready for the next adventure, and would bend over backwards to help anyone. Ms. Kitty was full of sass and loved bling. She was a real girly girl.”
Ms. Kitty owned Rich Tours Travel, a company she and her late husband started 32 years ago. She had a reputation for striking up a conversation with anyone. If she thought you needed a hug, you got one. If she thought you just needed someone to talk to, she was all ears.
Ms. Kitty died Monday from COVID-19 just several days after she was diagnosed. Her family is sharing their heartbreaking journey of losing a loved one to this vicious virus in hopes of encouraging people to wear a mask and to practice social distancing.
The beginning of the battle
Ms. Kitty’s daughter says she started complaining of back pain right after the start of the new year.
“She thought it was a urinary tract infection,” her daughter Regina says. “She just said she wasn’t feeling well. She got tested but her first COVID test was negative.”
She wasn’t feeling any better and on Monday, Jan. 4, her son, Neal Richardson, posted on his mother’s Facebook page that a second COVID test revealed she was positive and that she was headed to the hospital.
“I’d like to take a moment to ask everyone to say a prayer for my mom tonight,” Neal said on Facebook. “She has been diagnosed with COVID.” He went on to say she was going downhill quickly and asked everyone to “wear a mask and pray.”
By Tuesday morning, Jan. 5, the usually healthy and energetic woman who had no underlying medical conditions, according to her children, was showing signs of improvement.
“I spoke to the doctor this morning about my mom,” Neal said in a Facebook update. “He said her vital symptoms are good. Said her breathing and oxygen level is good, too. She does have COVID fog and confusion which they believe to be caused by fever. He has started her on a COVID drug and is continuing Tylenol to reduce the fever. They plan to keep her for at least another day to monitor and watch her.”
That same day, the family says the doctor gave them some good news. Ms. Kitty was going home.
Released from the hospital
On Wednesday, Jan. 6 Ms. Kitty was released from New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
“The doctor said she is not contagious anymore and doesn’t need to be quarantined,” Neal said. “He did say she needed to take it easy and rest for the next several days.”
That rest would be short-lived, however, as she soon started experiencing severe shortness of breath. Just one day after being released, Ms. Kitty would be heading back to the hospital in an ambulance—her children unable to go with her.
Friends and family were updated on Facebook.
Despite the setback, her family remained optimistic. Unable to visit her in the hospital, they spoke with her frequently on her cell phone. Her oxygen levels were concerning but she was still showing signs of the sassy Ms. Kitty.
On Saturday, Jan. 9, her daughter said her mom was wearing out the hospital staff about her food and wanted hot coffee.
“The nurse did say that she’s been on the phone too much,” Regina posted on Facebook. “I know, imagine that, my mom on the phone all the time. So, for now, she’s not allowed to have phone calls because when she tries to talk her oxygen level dips.”
The turning point
The next several hours would be the turning point in Ms. Kitty’s fierce battle with COVID-19.
In a Sunday morning update texted to family and friends, her daughter wrote:
9 am update: Ms Kitty continued to decline and at 4 a.m. they moved her to ICU and on a ventilator. We just spoke to the ICU nurse, doctor will call later. ICU full. Her vitals are good, her oxygen rate is 94. She’s resting and is stable. That’s all we know right now. We need all our prayer warriors to pray for Ms Kitty. She’s a fighter and with God’s help she can beat this.
News spread quickly that the Wilmington icon, loved by so many was in need or prayer. Hundreds of people posted on social media that they were praying for Ms. Kitty.
Sunday night was not a good night. The doctor informed the family that the prognosis for Ms. Kitty did not look good giving her only a 20 percent chance of surviving. The family was devastated.
Ms. Kitty died on Monday, Jan. 11, exactly one week after she was first admitted to the hospital.
Her family posted a final update.
Her family says they don’t know how Ms. Kitty contracted the virus. They say she never left home without her masks.
They’re not dwelling on the unknown. Instead, they’re hoping anyone reading this story will see the heartache this virus can have on families. They’re hoping it will be an inspiration to all to wear masks and to know that even when taking precautions, the virus is so contagious and so dangerous, it can kill you.
“She did wear masks, and preferred those with rhinestones and bling,” Regina says. “She was always dressed up and fixed when you saw her. If she had the opportunity to speak to people now, to make them realize the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing and washing their hands, she would tell them to listen to what the doctors and frontline workers are saying because COVID is real and if they doubt it in any way, just go visit her grave and see the results of COVID.”
The family will hold a private funeral. They are working on a public virtual service but a date has not been announced.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to Cape Fear Presbyterian Church, Methodist Home for Children or the charity of your choice.