This is part of a Yahoo News series honoring some of the American lives lost to COVID-19. Their stories are told by family and friends, who were left to deal with their often sudden and painful deaths.
James Luensman, 43, of, Atkins, Iowa., died on Oct. 30, 2020, after becoming ill with COVID-19. He is among the more than 580,000 Americans who have succumbed to the disease since the first known fatality in the United States in early 2020.
His 16-year-old son, Connor Luensman, told Yahoo News that his father was his “best friend” and a “hero” who saved many lives.
James was a paramedic for 19 years in the Cedar Rapids area. He also ran the paramedic program at Kirkwood Community College and taught respiratory therapy and nursing.
His ex-wife, Sallie Luensman, Connor’s mother, said “his true calling was to help people.” But his favorite role in life was being a father to Connor. She said James was very devoted to his son.
“He was a very involved dad when it came to doctor's appointments, school functions, sports, especially wrestling,” Sallie said. “He was there always, whether he worked an overnight shift or had to drive a couple hours — he wasn't going to miss it.”
Both father and son shared a passion for wrestling. James was a wrestler in high school and when Connor picked it up, he says his father was “ecstatic about it.”
One of his fondest memories with his dad, he says, was the day he won his first wrestling competition.
“He was there for me every step of the way,” he said. “I couldn't even hear my coaches because he was screaming so loud, and as soon as I won, I shook his hand. I didn't even go to my coaches. I went to him because his opinion was all that mattered.”
James contracted COVID-19 in early October 2020. After being hospitalized for two weeks, he died from complications of coronavirus.
Connor says leaning on his family, especially his mom, stepmother and stepbrothers, during such a difficult time, is what is helping him the most to cope with the loss of his dad and best friend.
He recently stumbled upon a picture of him wearing his dad's old paramedic shirt, and he says that it has inspired him to follow in his footsteps.
“I want to save lives, just like he did every day.”