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Kids Of A Single Mother Of Six Open Up About The Heartbreak Of Having To Say Goodbye To Her Via Walkie-Talkie

KOMO News / Photo provided by family

42-year-old breast cancer survivor Sundee Rutter died in Snohomish County, Washington on March 16 due to pneumonia caused by the pandemic circling the globe.

Her community is now remembering her and rallying around her 6 children, aged 13 to 24, whose father passed in 2012.


Rutter's family told KOMO News that she had gone to the hospital as soon as she felt ill, on March 3rd, but was sent home at the time.

It wasn't until her son brought her back to Providence Regional Medical Center—the hospital that treated the first known case of the virus in the United States—after she developed a fever and difficulty breathing that she was admitted for treatment.

Rutter was still recovering from a year of intensive treatment for stage 4 breast cancer when she was apparently exposed to the virus.

After her initial hospital visit, Rutter returned home. Elijah Ross-Rutter said his mother didn't initially think she had anything more than influenza.

"She thought she had the flu, probably.... It was kind of hard for us to understand how she could get it because not that many people had it around here."

Elijah said he was initially able to communicate with his mother via text after she was admitted to the hospital, but she eventually stopped being able to respond.

"She was sending me hearts on the messages but she wasn't replying."

On March 16 the hospital called to tell the family they should come in.

Sundee passed after a week in the hospital, with her family saying their goodbyes via walkie-talkie while she was in isolation.

Elijah Ross-Rutter told BuzzFeed News about the heartbreaking goodbye.

Elijah and his siblings were able to say their goodbyes to their mother with the assistance of a walkie-talkie that had been placed on her pillow next to her head.

"I told her I love her ... she shouldn't worry about the kids."

Rutter's mother and sister were at the children's side.

Rutter's friend Jessica Harris told KOMO News that they were all devastated by the loss.

"She was a wonderful person, and there's not many like her out there anymore. Great friend, great mother, great wife, she was a wonderful person. We're pretty devastated, she beat cancer and lost the battle to [the pandemic]? It's just crazy."

Harris said she hadn't really understood the gravity of the outbreak before getting news of Rutter's illness.

"And then when I got the news of her, I was like 'Oh my God, this is not something to play with, this is serious' and now my outlook is different."

Harris is greatly worried for Rutter's children, several of whom are still school age.

"Her children need somebody to help them because the oldest is going to be leaving college and trying to find housing so he can take care of his siblings, and that's really tough."

People from all over the country have shown their support for Rutter's family, donating more than $275,000.

24 year-old Tyree said he plans to use the money to find a place for he and his siblings to live while he finishes his last year of university.

Ross-Rutter was amazed by the outpouring of support for his family after his mother's passing.

"Like it's crazy how much love and support we've been receiving from the community. It kind of goes to show how big of an impact my mom had on our community. She was a super mom, you know?"