‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Family asks, ‘What do you do when Superman is afraid?’

Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.

Name: Chris Babbit

City/Town: Griffith

Age: 62

Died: Nov. 24

What do you do when Superman is afraid?

It’s a question Ashley Sims, 35, of Griffith, recently asked aloud — and then struggled through tears to answer — as she discussed the COVID-19 death of her father, Chris Babbit, 62, of Griffith.

Babbit was a tough Northwest Indiana steelworker who began his career as a laborer in 1976 and worked his way up to supervisor.

His coworkers called him Superman.

He could fix anything and was never afraid to jump into the trenches to help the laborers he led at an East Chicago, Indiana, steel mill.

Though he’d worked his way up to supervisor, he never forgot the rank-and-file where he came from and prided himself on leading by example, his family recalls.

At home, he also was known as a Superman, always jumping in to fix a family member’s broken appliance or clear snow from family driveways on his way to work, Ashley said.

He was a dedicated dad, never missing a youth sports event for his two children and later on for his three grandchildren.

And he was a doting husband, his wife, Louise, recalls.

“If I wanted a room painted, he’d paint it 10 times if I didn’t like the color,” Louise said.

Ashley said her father could meet life’s challenges and shine as a father around every turn.

So when Chris and Louise were both diagnosed with COVID-19 on Nov. 4, it was a blow to the whole family.

After the diagnosis, Louise stayed quarantined in her bedroom and Chris in the family room.

A pulse-oxygen machine at home helped the couple keep tabs on their breathing function.

Chris’ sister, Janee Babbit, a nurse, helped provide guidance.

On Nov. 8, Chris called Ashley in the morning, saying he would be taking Louise to the ER because she was having trouble breathing.

But when Ashley checked on her parents later that day, they were still home, their vehicle still outside the house.

Ashley called from street, and her mom answered the phone gasping for air.

Ashley called 911 out on the driveway.

When paramedics arrived, they found Louise with blue lips from oxygen deprivation, Ashley said.

Chris also was struggling with a low oxygen level.

Paramedics took Louise out by stretcher. Chris, who also would need to be hospitalized, walked on his own strength to the ambulance.

“It was the last time I saw my dad alive,” Ashley recalled through tears recently.

By Nov. 17, Louise’s condition improved enough for her to return home.

But on Nov. 19, still hospitalized, Chris’ lung collapsed, and he was placed on a ventilator.

Ashley recalls that every conversation with staff at the hospital thereafter was laced with ups and downs on her dad’s condition.

She also recalls the fear that was palpable in texts she exchanged with her father.

On one of the days, she texted, “How are you doing?” to her dad.

“I’m scared,” he replied.

It was almost more than Ashley could withstand.

“When it’s Superman, and he’s scared, what do you say to help him? Because your dad never tells you he’s scared ever,” Ashley recalled of the exchange.

Two days before Thanksgiving, a phone call from the hospital brought anything by thankfulness.

Someone at the hospital said: “‘Your dad’s dying right now,’” Ashley said.

Someone connected Ashley to her father via FaceTime, and she watched him die.

Like so many who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, Louise hopes her husband’s story helps remind others to value their lives and to take precautions.

Louise knows first-hand how COVID-19 attacks its victims.

“It’s a nightmare. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It’s like somebody is putting a plastic bag over your head, and as you’re gasping, the plastic bag is getting tighter and tighter,” Louise said. “That’s exactly how it feels.”

— Contributed by The Times of Northwest Indiana