Their love story spans a lifetime, but COVID-19 undid it all

Melissa Montoya
Fort Myers News-Press

In their short-lived marriage, Salvatore and Jermaine Ferro knew sickness and health. Sickness came quickly and brutally, killing half the couple. 

On March 5, Jermaine, 77, became the first recorded death in Lee County related to complications of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, records show.

Salvatore, 78, was in a coma for five weeks. He woke up without a wife and the ability to say goodbye, and is still doing therapy at a rehab center in Cape Coral, he said in an exclusive phone interview with The News-Press.

His only support comes from family members who visit him from outside his window.

The Ferros were two of the first people to contract the virus after traveling to the Dominican Republic in February to celebrate their first anniversary as a married couple. They came back from the Caribbean island on Feb. 15 and spent three to four days visiting a friend in Fort Lauderdale, he said.

Toward the end of February, the two became sick.

“She didn’t feel good, she said she wanted to lie down,” Salvatore said.

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She stayed in the same position for most of the day. A friend of the couple stopped by, became worried and called the ambulance.

The couple was taken to the hospital, where Jermaine died.

Although they didn't reveal names, Lee Health announced on March 7 that a woman had died of the virus and a second person had been infected after international travel. Lee Health reported the patient had a severe respiratory ailment upon arrival at the hospital. 

Doctors placed Salvatore on a ventilator. He was in a coma for about five weeks, he said. When it looked like he wouldn’t survive, doctors called some of his kids and told them to say goodbye. They took him off the ventilator, but, surprising everyone, he started breathing on his own, Salvatore said.

“I was a miracle."

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He said he had healthy lungs because he never smoked a day in his life. Jermaine, though, was a smoker and suffered from COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he said. 

“She couldn’t handle it,” he added.

Jermaine is survived by her sons, Brett and Ted, according to an obituary posted on Attempts to reach the sons were unsuccessful.

“Jermaine was a friend to all,” according to the obituary. “She excelled at every craft she put her mind to and had the greenest of green thumbs.”

Her likes included fishing, knitting, reading mysteries, and the music of Bob Dylan.

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Since Jermaine’s death, at least 54 people have died in Lee County from COVID-19 and officials have logged more than 1,000 cases of the disease, according to figures released Thursday. 

Though the couple’s marriage lasted a year, their love spanned decades.

“We dated in Brooklyn when we were 20,” Salvatore said. “We went our separate ways.”

Salvatore went into the Army. By the time he returned, Jermaine was married.

Salvatore married, too, and raised his own family — three daughters — with wife, Sara Ferro, who died of cancer In 2016. After Sara' passing, Salvatore said he took a trip to New York in 2018 from Florida to complete his “bucket list,” he said. While he was there, he Googled Jermaine — the woman who "still had a little place" in his heart. 

He found her. 

"Ironically, she was divorced," he said. “She was surprised. She said when are you coming around? Every 50 years? I said yeah, you know, I was thinking about you.”

When it was time for him to return to Florida, Jermaine followed.

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“She said I was her first love,” Salvatore said. "It was one hell of a love story." 

Jermaine's son had her cremated and taken back to New York, Salvatore said. 

"I never got to say goodbye," he said. "I didn't know she passed until I came to."

The couple said 'I do' in front of friends on February 2019 at their home in the 55-plus golfing community of Del Tura in North Fort Myers. 

"It was very small, in their home, but it was so lovely," said Susan Manning Beckner. "It was beautifully done."

Beckner, who also lives at Del Tura, officiated the wedding.

"She was so lovely," Beckner said of Jermaine. "They were such a lovely couple."

Beckner said Salvatore told her he was in love with Jermaine when he was younger. 

"He didn't feel worthy enough to ask her to marry him," Beckner said. "They both went their own ways and they went on in their own lives. 

"You wish they would have more time together." 

If you know someone who died in Lee or Collier counties from the virus and would like to honor them by sharing his or her story, email with your name and phone number as well as the name of person you'd like to tell us about.