Maria Martinez, 69, first met her husband Raul when the two were in middle school, back in 1966, and what followed was a deep friendship full of laughter and compassion to help others.
In the early years of their relationship, Raul went on to fight for his country in the Vietnam War, and when he came home he continued his heroics on California’s freeways working for the California Highway Patrol.
But this past August, the role of rescuer was on Maria when Raul tested positive for the novel coronavirus. With the health of her husband of 48 years in decline, Maria would get more bad news -- she too tested positive for COVID-19.
On Sept. 20, Raul died from the virus. Maria miraculously beat it. And now, she’s hoping the story of her husband’s life and her loss will strike a chord with those in her community not taking the virus seriously.
“You have information all over: Use the mask. Keep a safe distance. Stay home. All of the recommendations... People know all of that and they still don’t care,” Maria Martinez told NBC 7. “It’s very frustrating. Frustrating to me that there’s nothing I can do.”
The county’s latest figures show Maria’s neighborhood — the 91911 ZIP code in Chula Vista — has reported more than 3,200 cases, the second-highest number of positive cases in the county to date. County health officials say Raul is one of more than 50 people who have died from COVID-19 in that neighborhood.
Maria hopes neighbors will remember her husband’s story, and help save a life — just like Raul had done countless times.
Back in 1989, newspaper clippings recounted the time Raul saved a man he had discovered on a freeway bridge in San Juan Capistrano, reportedly ready to jump.
“Raul stopped him and had to wrestle him (to the ground, to) stop him from jumping,” Maria said. “He was always trying to find ways to help everybody.”
When the pandemic hit, Raul — then retired from the CHP — urged extra precaution when it came to the virus. Raul would do all the grocery shopping so that Maria could stay home and out of any virus harm’s way.
On their 48th wedding anniversary, Maria said Raul drove to get her favorite desert — a banana split from Baskin Robbins — and bring it home for the couple to enjoy together.
“He was very loving and fun, definitely a fun guy,” Raul’s daughter Claudia recollected. “He would always invite more people than we could ever fit in our home for occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve.”
Now, with the Thanksgiving Day holiday around the corner, Raul’s family is still grieving, hoping that others will do their part to keep everyone safe. News stories depicting people not wearing masks, or taking extra risk leaves them anxious.
“It gives me anxiety and stresses me out because I’ve already lost a parent,” Claudia said. “And I could potentially lose another, even though I know my mom is doing everything to take care of herself.”
Maria said doctors told her she is no longer contagious from the virus, and that she should keep following all the necessary precautions for others -- something she and Raul had done since day one.
“We thought that that was enough and it’s not because like I said, we were following their recommendations, and still, we got it. It's very scary,” Maria said