By Gaige Davila
When COVID-19 hit the Rio Grande Valley, Doug Atwell, a South Padre Island resident, became a cautious man, advocating to his family and friends to stay inside, wear masks and practice social distancing.
Even after the state reopened with a slew of orders issued by Governor Greg Abbott, Doug Atwell kept his distance from others.
“Even once things opened up on the Island, he was still staying put,” Dawn Atwell, Doug’s oldest daughter, told the PRESS in a phone call from her home in Houston. “It wasn’t until Memorial Day passed that I noticed my dad starting to kind of venture out a little bit more.”
Around June 16, Doug Atwell started feeling symptoms, a scratchy throat. A few days later, Doug came down with a fever and wasn’t feeling well, knowing he was sick.
On June 22, Doug tested for COVID-19, Dawn said. They were having difficulty finding a location to get him tested.
Doug, after testing positive for COVID-19, attempted to recover from the disease at his home on South Padre Island for two weeks, going back and forth between feeling better and feeling worse. Dawn would regularly ask her father if he wanted any of his family to come help him.
“He kept saying no, that he didn’t want any of us to catch it and he really thought he was doing better,” Dawn said.
Dawn’s last text message from her father, sent on July 2, reads:
“I sure feel like I’ve done my best,” Doug Atwell wrote. “The only thing this whole virus thing needs is time to work through me. Some people it’s a few weeks other people it takes months…it’s only been 2 weeks I’m thinking I have another week or so.”
The next day, another of Doug’s daughters called him, noting that Doug was slurring his words over the phone. He had a stroke from a blood clot developed in his then-pneumonic lungs and was rushed to the hospital and put on a ventilator. The doctors attending to Doug at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harligen said he had one of the worst cases of COVID-19 they had ever seen.
Doug Atwell died seven days later at 69 years old.
Doug Atwell moved to South Padre Island around 5 years ago, coming from San Antonio, Texas, after a long career of selling Toyota cars across the country. He was known as “Bowtie Doug,” for his signature bowtie.
He had always wanted to live by the water, his wife Monica Atwell, told the PRESS over the phone from her home in San Antonio.
“When he got there, it was just like something set him free, and he really started to live his life,” Monica said.
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