Husband and wife of 46 years both die of coronavirus, one week apart

Family shares story to raise awareness about public safety

OVIEDO, Fla. – After seeing COVID-19 rip through the fabric of their family, relatives of Sonia Ivelissa Goveo and Ruben Merced want others to learn just how dangerous the coronavirus can be.

Sonia Ivelissa Goveo, 68, died on April 9 after a battle with coronavirus. Her husband, Ruben Merced, 72, passed away at the Orlando VA hospital in Lake Nona on April 16.

Yaro Ralph is their niece, and spoke to News 6 from her home in Puerto Rico.

"They are joyful people of faith," Ralph said. "My aunt was this bubbly personality. We called her the glue of the family. Ruben was her partner for 46 years. They really were inseparable."

Sonia Ivelissa Goveo and Ruben Merced called Central Florida home for the past several years.

"It was a dream of my uncle to retire in Florida," Ralph said.

Ralph detailed how Sonia Ivelissa Goveo went to the hospital and was released a few days later, only to learn she had tested positive for COVID-19.

“None of us thought it was COVID, her symptoms were like the stomach flu,” Ralph said. “She comes back home and two days later, she has it again and it’s worse. (Her daughter) Elisabet takes her to the hospital and that’s where we hear it’s COVID-19. She just went so quickly and so dramatically and we were so unprepared to deal with the reality of losing her.”

Ralph credited the nurses at AdventHealth in Winter Park for helping Sonia Ivelissa Goveo connect with her family.

“You don’t really get to see or talk to your loved one, you just know they’re in a room somewhere,” Ralph said. “It was a very strange experience to be on the phone with her, to say goodbye to my aunt. None of (us) could say goodbye to my uncle unfortunately. It’s just been surreal. We’re just shell-shocked.”

It was shortly after Sonia Ivelissa Goveo’s diagnosis that her husband, Ruben Merced, a Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam War veteran, fell ill.

"My uncle, we thought it was a slight heart attack, and he’s diagnosed with COVID-19," Ralph said. "Now we’re really overwhelmed. My aunt dies, and two days later, my uncle is intubated and he dies. We had planned my aunt’s funeral, and as soon as we were done burying her, we have to start planning my uncle’s funeral."

Two of Sonia Ivelissa Goveo and Ruben Merced’s children, Elisabet Merced and David Merced Goveo, tested positive for the virus as well, Ralph said.

“(David Merced Goveo) was actually sedated in a medically-induced coma when his parents passed,” she said. “He did not learn about their passing until after he was extubated and his siblings told him the news that both his parents passed away.”

Both of the couple's children who tested positive for the virus have since recovered, Ralph said.

The family said they decided to share their story publicly as a way to raise awareness on the issue.

"We spoke up because we want people to understand this could happen to anybody," Ralph said. "They took all the precautions when the order to shelter in place came in. They were not stepping out and they weren’t taking this lightly. My uncle was going to the supermarket and back, and that’s all he was doing. My aunt never even left the house after she went to the hospital the first time. We just would like to let state and local government know they need to have their act together if they want to inch us out of this and into an open environment to be safe for all of us. There’s a lot of work to be done."

Sonia Ivelissa Goveo and Ruben Merced were buried at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery.

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