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Tony Loeppky would reassure his mother during their customary Saturday phone calls that he was wearing his mask and keeping a safe distance from others when he did his grocery shopping.

He didn't call her on Saturday, Nov. 7.

Forty-eight hours later, the long-haul trucker was found dead in his Fargo, N.D., home.

Speaking with the Free Press Wednesday, Gloria Loeppky said she had no reason to believe anything was wrong with her 58-year-old son, who left Altona decades ago to drive in the U.S.

But on Nov. 9, her daughter, Brenda, delivered the news that Tony, the second of three children, had succumbed to COVID-19 that day — just two days after he'd been tested.

Tony Loeppky, a long-haul trucker from Fargo, N.D., died two days after taking a COVID-19 test. (Supplied)

Tony Loeppky, a long-haul trucker from Fargo, N.D., died two days after taking a COVID-19 test. (Supplied)

"We found out the Monday, the day he died. As far as we can tell, he started getting sick on the Tuesday, went for a COVID test Saturday and died Monday," Loeppky said. "It was very, very fast. None of it makes any sense.

"It's a total shock. I said to my daughter, 'No. That's not right.' He told me he was being so careful. Everywhere he went, he put his mask on."

The death toll from COVID-19 in North Dakota hit 785 on Wednesday, meaning one in every 1,000 people from Manitoba's neighbour to the south has died from the virus.

Loeppky said her affectionate, quick-witted son had no underlying health conditions.

"I had talked to him a little more than a week before and he was fine. To my knowledge he had absolutely nothing wrong. He drove his own truck and he had to have a physical every year and he was always OK," she said.

Loeppky's other daughter, Marlow Fraser, concurred her brother, who wasn't married and had no children, wasn't in the best shape but had no pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or diminished lung capacity.

Tony was on the road when he complained to friends in Fargo about a nasty head cold and couldn't wait to get home. Two days later, he was home resting but wasn't well, although he scoffed at the advice of close friend Herm Balster that he get checked out in hospital.

"He's stubborn, he's not a hospital person, he's not a pill popper. He refused to go," said Fraser, by phone from Cape Breton, N.S.

COVID-19 has killed one in every 1,000 North Dakotans

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(Mike McCleary / Associated Press files)						</p>																	<p>Last week, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said the pressure on hospitals due to COVID-19 is so intense, the state would allow nurses who have COVID-19, and are asymptomatic, to work in hospitals and nursing homes.						</p>
(Mike McCleary / Associated Press files)

Last week, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said the pressure on hospitals due to COVID-19 is so intense, the state would allow nurses who have COVID-19, and are asymptomatic, to work in hospitals and nursing homes.

Posted: 18/11/2020 5:25 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. — The death toll from COVID-19 in this state hit 785 on Wednesday, meaning one in every 1,000 North Dakotans has died from the virus.

Even as the number of active cases dropped, North Dakota, which has a population of 762,000, continued to lead a surging outbreak across the United States.

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Balster and another friend checked up on him on Friday and managed to get some food into him.

"On Saturday, he was looking better. On Monday morning, they found him passed away in his chair," Fraser said.

Family was told by a medical examiner at the Cass County coroner's office the cause of death was COVID-19.

"He got it from somewhere but we don't know how, where. I don't know what they do for contact tracing in the States, and it's really, really bad in North Dakota now so they are probably just flying by the seat of their pants," said Fraser. "They didn't say exactly how or why. But his test came back positive (two days after he died).

"I have a daughter-in-law who's a nurse and she deals with COVID patients all the time, and she said you can go from breathing normally to being intubated in an hour. We hope he passed quickly and didn't suffer."

Balster, who recovered from the virus earlier this year, said he visited Tony four straight days and finally convinced him to get tested on the Saturday.

He could see his buddy, a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, was suffering badly.

"He said he just couldn't eat anything. Just to go to the bathroom and back, it would take him 20 minutes to catch his breath. He was fatigued so bad, so fast. On Saturday, his temperature was 101.5 (F)," said Balster. "We suspected (coronavirus) big-time. I was the only one that came in to take care of him, and it was like pulling teeth to get him to go in and get a damn test.

Tony Loeppky had no pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or diminished lung capacity. (Supplied)

Tony Loeppky had no pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or diminished lung capacity. (Supplied)

"The coroner ruled out heart attack or stroke. She thought his body just shut down and he stopped breathing because it had nothing to work on. His body turned off — due to COVID."

Balster said he'll miss his friend's hearty laugh, smile and big, blue eyes, similar sentiments expressed by Tony's sister.

"His love of family and friends, his bear hugs that you'd literally have to tell him to stop because you couldn't breathe," Fraser said with a laugh. "He protected people, he always wanted people to treat other people right. He was kind beyond belief. He loved his nieces and nephews immensely."

Loeppky, her ex-husband, Gerald, and Tony's sisters are working on getting his ashes and some his belongings back to Altona.

His mother deeply regrets not seeing him in person since last Christmas, as the pandemic made travel too risky.

"I can't believe he's gone. It's very hard. If I knew he was sick, I would have gone (to see him). I'm an American citizen, so I could have gone," Gloria said. "I'm on oxygen myself but I wouldn't have cared."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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