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Henderson man who sought better life in US dies from COVID-19

Updated October 6, 2020 - 9:41 am

Joselito Vitug was always focused on his family.

When he was in his 20s, he left his home in the Philippines in search of a better life in the United States.

“Really, what he wanted the most was to see his family and his siblings live a dream coming here,” his son, Joel Vitug, said.

Today, they’re able to do that, he said.

The elder Vitug, a Henderson resident, died May 6 due to complications from a battle with COVID-19. He was 74.

Arrived in Chicago in 1971

His journey to the United States started when he and his friends were drinking and walking around near the U.S. embassy in the Philippines, Vitug’s wife, Yolanda, said. He saw a line of people waiting to fill out applications for American visas so he decided he would apply, she said.

He arrived in Chicago in 1971, with his family following a few months behind him.

Joselito and Yolanda moved to Henderson full time after Yolanda retired in 2012. While living in Nevada, Joselito, who had a background as an accountant, owned Jackson Hewitt tax service franchises in Arizona and Southern Nevada.

His illness started in March with fatigue. Then, it affected his breathing, caused fluctuations in body temperature, and caused his blood oxygen level to drop.

Ryne Vitug said his grandfather had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney issues but worked out every day and ate healthy.

Went into hospital in April

He was hospitalized in early April. Yolanda said she was with her husband by a hospital door before a security guard told her to leave because staying could also make her sick.

“And I didn’t know that that’s the last time I’m going to see him alive,” she said. She, too, would test positive for COVID-19 and spend time in the hospital.

At first, Vitug’s family was able to text with him and video chat while he was in the hospital. Then he stopped responding.

Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Vitug was intubated and taken to the intensive care unit.

Vitug’s daughter, Lalaine Pacis-Vitug, said that when an ICU nurse started telling the family about her father’s condition, she knew the end was near. The family traveled to Southern Nevada, and when the day came, they rushed to her mother’s house and suited up in personal protection equipment, Pacis-Vitug said.

“And we just needed to be there together when we found out from the nurse,” Pacis-Vitug said.

Joselito Vitug’s family watched through a video chat app as he was extubated and took his last breath, she said.

“That was … something that I wish nobody would ever go through because dealing with that was so traumatic and it was so sad,” Joel Vitug said.

Body returned to Chicago

Joselito Vitug’s body was returned to Chicago on May 15, the day of his wedding anniversary with Yolanda. His son said he visits his grave every day.

Pacis-Vitug said faith is what helped her family get through difficult times. They would hold daily prayers with relatives in the Philippines over video chat, she said.

She said her father was a generous jokester who had a big heart and loved animals. He was a talented musician who passed his passion down to his family. He was an entrepreneur who always wanted to start businesses, she said.

He was willing to take chances, she said, especially if it was going to help his family.

“He’s still watching over us,” Pacis-Vitug said. “I always feel his presence. I know he’s always taking care of us. So even when he’s not here, he is here. He’s here spiritually.”

In an effort to more thoroughly report how COVID-19 affects Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal wants to memorialize people who died from the disease. Share your friend or loved one’s story by visiting reviewjournal.com/covid-stories.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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