Anne Carley Gallun’s heartbroken family has been warning ‘disbelievers’ to take the pandemic seriously
A 71-year-old Milwaukee woman with Down Syndrome, who lived a full and vibrant life with her loving family, died from COVID-19 back in July. Now, Anne Carley Gallun’s family members are hoping to get through to people who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously after watching their beloved aunt and sister suffer tragically from the disease.
Gallun’s niece, Maggie Haddock, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that their close-knit family is still keenly grieving their loss. Haddock said Gallun first developed symptoms in June while living in quarantine at the Parkway House group home. Family members had to explain to Gallun that she wasn’t able to leave the home, and they were able to visit her for a 15-minute outdoor visit the week before she got sick with COVID.
Gallun had been in quarantine at the Parkway House group home near Mount Mary University. Her family said it was hard for her to understand why she couldn’t leave to attend her day program, but she’d made peace with it.
“She was someone who was always thrilled to see people,” Haddock said. “You take that stuff for granted. And now that I don’t have that, it’s like, wow, that really left such a big impact on my life.”
Gallun’s sister, Mary Pat Graffwallner, says her sister, born in 1948, defied the odds doctors at that time had predicted. When many people with Down Syndrome were institutionalized in those days, Gallun was cared for and loved by her parents, and became a huge part of her local community.
“Nobody ever discriminated against her. It was really like a village that raised her,” Grafwallner tells the Sentinel. “She was very much a part of the community.”
When her sister began feeling ill and coughing, Grafwallner took her to the hospital. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, she couldn’t stay with her. A rapid test revealed she had the virus. And while doctors were initially optimistic about Gallun’s odds, her condition worsened quickly. Alone in the hospital, disoriented and scared, Gallun didn’t understand what was happening to her.
Video chatting was too painful for the family — it was hard to see her and not be able to be there. “I would describe it as watching someone drown from a distance and just standing there and not being able to reach in and help,” Haddock said.
Gallun entered hospice care on July 13. Her family called and played her favorite music, songs like “Edelweiss” from her favorite movie, The Sound of Music. Gallun couldn’t respond, and her niece could only hear her breathing. That evening, she died.
“To say goodbye to someone in this way — it’s horrific,” Haddock said. “It’s unimaginable.”
The family was unable to gather for a funeral due to the pandemic. And now, months later, they’re still grappling with people who deny the severity of the pandemic and refuse to wear masks. Grafwallner made a sign to display outside of her home — a photo of Gallun accompanies the words: “COVID-19 is real!”
She says she tries to convince strangers to wear masks to protect others in hopes that if they hear her story, they’ll be motivated to be more proactive. Seeing people not take COVID-19 seriously is, understandably, incredibly difficult for everyone Gallun left behind — especially her sister.
“She was our treasure,” she said. “We lost a treasure because of COVID.”