Rev. Eddie Hunter’s widow saw the effects of COVID-19 and encourages all to get COVID-19 vaccination
A year ago Linda Hunter was at the side of her husband Dr. Rev. Eddie Hunter as he was fighting for his life — fighting COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at Russell Medical.
Just three weeks earlier the reverend and Hunter were packing to move to their new home overlooking Rev. Hunter’s church Miracle Missionary Baptist Church. A week before moving around the corner to the new home, the reverend led his last service in an earthly pulpit Sunday, March 15, 2020 at Miracle and at Good Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Equality.
“He went home on a Sunday morning,” Hunter said. “He gave God his communion. He was the communion. He was the sacrifice.”
It was Sunday, April 5, 2020. The reverend had just passed away but Hunter was counting her blessings. Hospitals were closed to visitors. But in the reverend’s last days he was not alone with his Father. The reverend’s bride of 44 years was there — COVID-19 was the enemy.
“For three days and three nights, I watched the man swell so big, unrecognizable,” Hunter said.
“They told me he wasn’t in pain. They told me he couldn’t feel it because they were giving him something.
“At first, they were wiping sweat with a towel. His sweat was so big — big as grapes. They would have to come back often because he was sweating so much.”
The reverend’s blood pressure climbed. His temperature climbed through triple digits. Hunter’s kidneys were failing.
Hunter said Russell Medical nurse practitioner Tammy Coker went the extra mile.
“She was the one who helped me with my husband at Russell,” Hunter said. “She is the one who called the state asking for help because at the time, they hadn’t been shipped the right kind of medication.
“COVID had just hit. They were learning how to treat it. That stuff was so thick, yellow — thick. It had red in it. You could pull it and it would go back together. Pull it, go back together. They would pull it and it would go back together.
“They tried everything. They even went back to get some old remedies they did before some of the modern medicine to try to treat his kidneys. They had shut down.”
The scene in ICU was surreal. Medical staff coming and going monitoring the machines keeping the reverend alive. Everyone was unrecognizable dressed in blue and yellow with masks covering faces, gowns covering clothing and gloves covering hands.
All the while, Hunter saw others like her husband.
“I was the only family I saw those three days and three nights,” Hunter said. “I saw people pass away — no loved ones.
“I saw them roll people out of ICU. It was so sad. People were outside there just hollering and crying. It was so sad.”
The reverend was silent. No longer could his deep bass voice that led the Alabama Spirituals be heard. The sounds were electronic and mechanical, not coming from a beautiful soul who led a church congregation but from a ventilator and other devices keeping the earthly body of the reverend alive. No longer was the reverend the sentinel at weddings and funerals offering advice to newly weds or comforting families of loved ones passing to their Heavenly home.
Now it was Hunter who filled the role, trying to comfort someone in the hospital her husband, medical staff and herself. Now it was the reverend, her husband of 44 years who was needing the blessing.
“He laid there, never moved, never blinked an eye,” Hunter said. “I opened his eyelids and his eyes were rolled back, all the way to the ceiling. They say he was going to die; they said he would be gone within 24 hours — but he lived three days longer.
“By them telling me he was going to die and living past it all, I was thinking, ‘God you are going to pull him through — You’re going to pull him through Lord. He is going to pull through.”
Hunter thought she was going to see a miracle. This one she thought would involve the reverend who prayed for healing for so many others.
“We all thought he was going to come through because he made it past when they thought he wouldn’t make it,” Hunter said. “They gave him up — the next day, he is still here. The next day he was still here — and the next day, he was still here.”
Saturday, April 4, 2020 Hunter went home. Only instead of showering changing clothes and returning to the reverend’s side, she stayed in the couples’ new home looking down the hill over Miracle Missionary Baptist Church she and the reverend built, waiting for a phone call.
“They sent me home on Saturday night because they knew the time was near,” Hunter said. “They said they would call at 5:30 a.m. They let me stay three days and three nights. I was sitting in the window.
“I couldn’t wait to 5:30. I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t wait.”
The sun hadn’t yet come up Sunday, April 5, 2020.
“I felt it,” Hunter said. “I didn’t give them to 5:30; I called them at 5:20.
“When I called she said, ‘We are working with him.’ She said, ‘They want to give him the heart thing to bring him back,” Hunter said while holding her hands to her chest as if they were the defibrillator on the reverend’s chest. “I said yes.”
The reverend’s body died — releasing his soul for His Heavenly Father to hold.
‘Nobody had COVID-19’
Hunter said her husband, the reverend, had always been healthy.
“My husband wasn’t on any kind of medication,” Hunter said. “He wasn’t on aspirin. He didn’t have any blood pressure issues; he didn't have any diabetes; he didn’t have any kidney disease. Dr. Sunil Sharma said he was in perfect health. He wasn’t on nothing. He was healthy — nothing but his sinuses.”
Hunter knew her husband’s sinuses were a small problem, the reverend's only issue.
“I knew he was sick with sinus because he had seven sinus surgeries,” Hunter said. “Sinus was nothing new for me because he suffered with sinus all his life. He was a sinus sufferer. If he ever got the wrong scent, doctor; pollen, doctor. His sinus issues were the real deal.”
Hunter said in March 2020 the reverend was getting treatment for sinus issues in Opelika. It was nearly a week after the reverend delivered his last earthly sermon in Coosa County. Hunter said the reverend was never in Chambers County in the weeks before he got sick.
“His name was on the program,” Hunter said. “He was invited to sing, but had already committed to preach at Good Hope.”
The reverend was with family packing up their Booker Street home the couple shared since meeting at nearby Seleta Missionary Baptist Church, where the reverend felt the call to the pulpit.
“It was love at first sight,” Hunter said. “He was smoking a long cigar. He was playing a guitar. When I saw him playing that guitar, I said, ‘That’s mine right there.’ Yes Lord, he was playing that guitar and honey, when he got outside he had a cigarette. I didn’t even smoke, but I knew he was the one.”
The Hunters were married three months later.
March 20, 2020 the happily married couple was enjoying time with family — completing the second part of the reverend’s vision — moving into a home looking over Miracle Missionary Baptist Church.
“We moved on a Friday and stayed in the home Saturday,” Hunter said. “The neighbors helped us, her son, Thelma, me, Dominica, Shaun, Elliot. It was a bunch of folks who helped us move.”
The Hunters would relax in their new home Sunday and Monday admiring the second part of the reverend’s vision.
“The third is a family life center over the trees,” Hunter said from her from stoop.
Hunter doesn’t see how her husband contracted COVID-19 as others in the family should have been positive for the coronavirus too. All of the effort of family and friends was to help the couple move.
“Everybody would have had it,” Hunter said. “My daughter was around him — her children. (Sister inlaw Linda Hunter) was around him. His brother was around him, Stan Hunter; Linda — everybody.”
The reverend traveled to Opelika Tuesday, March 24, 2020 to seek treatment again.
“My brother had been taking him to the doctor,” Hunter said. “Dr. McLeod had been doctoring on my husband for two weeks for his sinuses.”
The reverend, like so many times before, was having an episode with his sinuses.
“He had a bad sinus infection,” Hunter said. “The pollen had gotten mixed with blood. They were trying to pull it off his lungs. It wasn’t coming out fast enough. Dr. McLeod sent him to Dr. Sharma. They did chest x-rays.
“In the meantime, on his way home, Dr. Sharma called him and told him to come to the hospital. Greg took him to Russell.”
Russell Medical began to treat the reverend.
“When he got to Russell, they checked him and he took him upstairs,” Hunter said. “His test was negative for COVID. He was not diagnosed with COVID when he got there. We cannot say he was entered in the hospital for COVID because he wasn’t.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was striking Tallapoosa County — hitting long-term care facilities especially hard. The reverend’s diagnosis changed.
“He was in the hospital three days; they gave him another test,” Hunter said. “They sent it off. They had started dying at Chapman’s, Bill Nichols. His second test came back — it came back positive.”
The reverend was in a regular room. Hunter couldn’t visit but she could talk to her husband. She got to speak with him one more time as the reverend was eating.
“He said, ‘I can’t hardly breathe, I can’t catch my breath,’” Hunter said with a heavy sigh. “Then the nurse said they were going to put him in ICU.
“I said, ‘No, he don’t need to go to ICU.’”
Hunter called out to her husband holding a phone handset, not his hand, just more than a year ago.
“Reverend,” Hunter called out.
“He said, ‘Yea, I can’t catch my breath. I said, ‘I don’t want you to go to ICU,’”
The reverend responded to his wife.
“But I can’t breathe,” the reverend said to Hunter.
‘The Lord heard my prayer’
The reverend was now in ICU. A ventilator was now taking his breaths for him to aid his battle against the new virus.
Hospitals had closed doors to visitors, even spouses — elective medical procedures had stopped. The reverend was alone except for medical staff checking vitals and giving him treatments including respiratory therapist Buffy Colvin.
Hunter was relentless in her efforts to get to the reverend’s bedside. The wife of 44 years wasn’t going to let her husband be alone. She called Russell Medical and got someone on the phone pleading her case.
“She told me I couldn’t come,” Hunter said, clutching her hands as if her hands were holding the reverend’s. “I said, ‘Maam, I got to see my husband.’ She said, ‘No, we are not allowing visitors into the hospital.’”
Hunter still begged.
“I said, ‘Maam, you can’t tell me that I can’t come to see my husband,’” Hunter said, dabbing a tissue in the corner of her eye. “She said, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come.’”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health made the decision, not Russell Medical — all an effort to protect patients and staff as much was still unknown about COVID-19.
Hunter’s efforts to get to her husband didn’t stop. When questioning and drilling earthly souls didn’t work, Hunter sought Heavenly intervention. Hunter called the reverend’s best friend in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. John Walker and his wife Rosa.
“They prayed with me,” Hunter said. “Dr. Walker asked the Lord to open some doors and windows that man could not open. He told the Lord that he knew my husband was at peace. He said he knowed that I needed him for a little while longer.”
It didn’t take long, “the Lord heard my prayer,” Hunter said.
Regulations allowed certain family to visit when medical staff felt it was close to the end. Hunter said her phone rang and a nurse was on the other end of the line.
“She told me that they were going against all rules,” Hunter said. “They were going to allow me to come to the hospital and see my husband. They said it’s not supposed to be done because no one was allowed in, but they were going to let me come in.”
Another prayer was needed. Hunter prayed with Walker and his wife again before going to the second floor of Russell Medical walking through the automatic glass doors of ICU.
“I saw my husband laying there,” Hunter said. “I never saw nothing like that in my life. I had never read about it, I had been watching TV for weeks seeing people, but not like that.”
Hunter had more help from niece Shelia Varner.
“She is a nurse,” Hunter said. “She helped me walk me through it.”
Staff at Russell Medical tried to insure Hunter wouldn’t get COVID-19 while visiting her husband.
“They took me in a private room; they would dress me head-to-toe,” Hunter said. “Masks, gown, gloves, everything. They took care of me. They were not supposed to do that.”
Hunter said she felt blessed, not only for seeing her husband but for the staff at Russell Medical.
“They went overboard,” Hunter said. “It was God. It was God.”
Helping don personal protective equipment isn’t the only thing Russell Medical staff helped Hunter with.
“I would sit in the chair by his bedside, crying,” Hunter said. “They made me comfortable. They gave me a pillow and blankets — loved me.”
It wasn’t supposed to be the reverend
Early in the pandemic those with other health issues were susceptible to COVID-19. The reverend was healthy except for his sinuses but Hunter was a different story. She believes things could have been different a year ago.
“I’m a sick woman,” Hunter said. “I would have had it first, but I have never had it. I tested three times, negative each time.”
It’s not COVID-19 that ails Hunter’s body.
“I’m on everything,” Hunter said. “I’m a walking drug store now. I have heart disease; I have chronic asthma.
“I had bilateral knee surgery, both shoulders. I got titanium here, titanium here in the wrist, shoulder. I’m a robot.”
Preparing the flock
The reverend led the Alabama Spirituals, a group with family roots going back to the Golden Shields. The Alabama Spirituals recorded a national record, were nominated for Dove award and won a Rhythm of Gospel Award with MCG Records. But a song, “When the gates swing open” was special to the reverend the last three months of his life.
“He was sending us a message,” Hunter said. “When he preached his last words were, ‘Don’t look at me, Look at Jesus. Get your eyes off me and look for Jesus.’ He was setting us in order. He didn’t know his time was coming.”
Hunter thought again it was her with little time on earth.
“I had a dream; I saw my death three times,” Hunter said. “The reverend told me it's not you.
“I was sick. I said, ‘Reverend, the Lord is coming after me. I saw three preachers three different times. He said, ‘It’s not you.’ I said yes it is. The last time I saw it, it was with his uncle’s wife.”
The song was etched in the story. With recording equipment, the reverend made a recording, one of his last directions from God while he walked the earth.
“He went down stairs and made it,” Hunter said. “He was sick. He went downstairs, made it and gave it to me. He said, ‘Here, here is the song and died just weeks later.
“He saw it coming. His eyes had changed. I saw it too, now that I can look back.”
Lean on someone
The reverend was called to preach early and was soon pastoring his first church, Early Rose Missionary Baptist Church.
“He was called to preach on a Sunday, the next Sunday he started preaching and never stopped; he never did stop,” Hunter said.
He would spend 16 years at Early Rose. Then Thankful Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia came calling.
Three months later the reverend had a vision that would quickly become Miracle Missionary Baptist Church.
“He came home on a Monday night,” Hunter said. “On Tuesday night, set up Miracle, he didn’t miss a beat. Tuesday night had Bible study and never did stop. Sunday that week, we had church out there in the big house. He never did stop, never did stop.”
A year ago as news of the reverend’s plight spread, Hunter received calls, cards and more. It all showed the love the world had for the reverend.
“Preachers from all around the world, I got cards from Tahiti, I got cards from Italy; those people at Thankful acted like the reverend was still their pastor,” Hunter said. “Thankful pastor Arthur Rodgers reached out, church members, they sent cards, they sent telegrams, they sent moneygrams, they did everything. And he only pastored there for three months.”
Another church from the reverend’s past has supported Hunter as she still grieves.
“Here in Alexander City, Pastor Develkio Wilson of Early Rose Missionary Baptist Church, he has stood by me since the beginning. He hasn’t turned his back yet. Not yet, not yet.”
Others include Emerson Ware and Larry Shealy of Darian Missionary Baptist Church and Alexander City councilmember Bobby Tapley and his wife.
The Hunters’ children and family have been there too — Levester, Taiwan, Dominica and Robert Wayne.
There is the Miracle family too. Dr. Trent Williams started to lead the reverend’s church late last year.
“Pastor Williams said that he is standing on Rev. Hunter’s shoulders,” Hunter said. “I believe that. He is doing great work. I do believe Miracle is going to follow him. I believe we will follow him because he is standing on Rev. Hunter’s shoulders. I am part of Miracle.”
Miracle Missionary Baptist Church was the reverend’s child too.
“Miracle was his baby,” Hunter said. “Miracle was his heart. The reverend was Miracle’s miracle.”
Slowing the pandemic
The COVID-19 vaccine has been going into arms since before Christmas. It has been becoming more available everyday. Hunter has gotten the vaccine.
“It is just another tool in the tool box just like a Bible,” Hunter said. “Measles and mumps and all this other stuff, they have things for that and the flu too. I think this will help me. It will help me complete God’s mission for me.”
Hunter said she got a first dose when the vaccine first came out. About time to get the second dose, Hunter said she got sick and missed the window for the booster.
A week and half ago, Hunter traveled to Russell Medical’s Goodwater clinic to start the vaccine over again and met up with Coker again who has been on Hunter’s journey too.
“She is good,” Hunter said. “She called the state when I couldn’t see the reverend.”
This round of vaccines is going better.
“It was nice, no real pain,” Hunter said. “I have chronic asthma, one lung is already gone. I believe this shot will help me. I do feel like it will help me because I can’t hardly breathe. I have oxygen, breathers and inhalers and things. I think it will help me.”
Hunter is urging others to get the vaccine to help stop the pandemic allowing life to return to something close to normal and worshipping in church.
“I don’t want people to think I’m demanding but I urge them to take it,” Hunter said. “I want it to be their choice.”
Ultimately someone else is in control of life’s on/off button.
“It is not the shot that is going to save you — it’s Jesus,” Hunter said. “It’s not Jehovah. It’s the Man above. If you had saw what I seen, the TV can’t tell it. I don’t care what people say, you need to see it. If you saw it, you would get the shot.
“I don’t know how a human body can go through what my husband went through. I’m so thankful that they finally got some help for people.”
Hunter is especially appreciative of the staff at Russell Medical and believes they are another reason to get the vaccination.
“I’m thankful to God that God saw fit to open the doors and the windows and the heart of the doctors and nurses and the people who clean the floors — everybody out there at Russell,” Hunter said. “They took care of me and him. I am so thankful and grateful. I’ve been out there several times to see what I could do. If I could just show my appreciation. I beg anybody to please take the shot. If you don’t take it for yourself, I encourage you to pray to whatever your God is, whoever it is.”