Julie Books’ family could not see or speak to her for two weeks as she lay in a hospital bed, on a ventilator, fighting COVID-19.

Her son, Mike, begged for someone at the eastern Michigan hospital to take an iPad to her room, but the tablets were in short supply.

After Julie died, her children channeled their grief into helping other patients stay connected with their loved ones.

They have raised funds to donate 50 iPads to hospitals throughout Michigan.

On Friday, they delivered 10 to Spectrum Health.

“People heal faster when they don’t feel alone,” said Julie’s daughter, Karen Pearson. “Sometimes people need to hear people who love them say they need them still.”

Each iPad includes an engraved message in Julie’s beautiful, flowing script: “Love, Julie.”

‘She was in good health’

In the Books family, Julie was “the ringleader,” Karen said.

The 68-year-old woman from Milford, Michigan, was an energetic, take-charge woman.

She doted on her husband, Lenny. And she took delight in lavishing time, attention—and plenty of treats—on her nine grandchildren.

“She was an amazing person who loved her family,” Mike said. “And we loved her.”

For years, Julie and Lenny lived in Monroe, Michigan, where they owned small grocery stores. They moved to Milford 10 years ago to be closer to family.

Julie continued to work about 30 hours a week at a local gas station.

“She loved going to work. She loved talking to customers,” Mike said. “And everybody loved my mom.”

Julie and Lenny became sick with COVID-19 in late October. Lenny recovered from his illness.

But Julie, with her blood oxygen level dropping, was admitted to a Southeast Michigan hospital on Nov. 1.

At first, she communicated with her family through phone calls and texts. But that became difficult as she grew weaker.

On Nov. 5, she was placed on a ventilator to deliver oxygen to her ailing lungs.

Pandemic-related visitor restrictions meant no family members could sit beside her, hold her hand or encourage her.

Mike began asking the medical team to take an iPad to Julie’s room in the intensive care unit so her husband, children and grandchildren could talk to her. On Nov. 19, two weeks after his mom was placed on a ventilator, he arranged the iPad visit.

Seeing her mom on a ventilator was not easy, Karen said.

“I had never seen her like that before,” she said. “It was a bittersweet thing.”

But she felt grateful for the chance to speak from her heart: “We all told her we needed her.”

With his mom nearing death, Mike was allowed to visit the next day. He took along an iPad to connect Julie with her five siblings.

She died Nov. 22, with Lenny, Karen and Mike by her side and holding her hands.

A project grows

After losing his mother, it didn’t take Mike long to realize he wanted to help other patients separated from their families.

At first, he planned to donate one iPad to the hospital.

But with support from others, the Books family launched a fundraising campaign to expand their reach.

So far, they have raised $20,000, enough for 50 iPads.

Mike chose to donate some to Spectrum Health because he once lived in Grand Rapids. And many of the donors live in West Michigan.

Also, he learned Spectrum Health has a robust program called Care Channel, supported by the COVID-19 Response Fund.

The medical team sets the iPads near patients’ beds so families can communicate with them. The iPad, mounted on a small tripod, may be moved to get the best view for patients and their families.

The medical team also uses laptops to connect patients with their families.

Family members appreciate being able to see and speak to their loved ones even when the patients are unable to communicate, said Maggie Simons, RN, BSN, nursing supervisor for cardiothoracic critical care at the Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center. The nurses also use the iPads to give updates and explain the machines and medication that help the patient breathe.

“It’s been really amazing. I hear a lot of thankfulness and appreciation,” said Amanda Plunkett, senior project specialist in Spectrum Health Information Services. “Even as people are worried and scared, they have just been appreciative for the opportunity.”

Mike and Lenny delivered the 10 iPads to Spectrum Health on Dec. 11.

Although the iPads come equipped with chargers, the family also donated extra chargers that can be given to patients who bring their own phones or tablets to the hospital but don’t have a way to charge them.

“This is heartfelt and life-changing giving,” said Tamara VanderArk-Potter, communications director of the Spectrum Health Foundation.

She praised the Books family for reaching out to help others.

“Technology is connecting families with loved ones in the hospital,” she said. “This is made possible through the generosity of donors like the Books family.”

The Books family continues to raise funds and now aims to donate 100 iPads.

Helping others in their mother’s name has been healing.

“It is definitely making my dad smile,” Karen said.

“I think my mom would be proud,” Mike said.