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Her husband battles COVID in a coma. His son's heart was left altered: Pandemic hits home for 2 state reps

Two COVID stories from the Georgia capitol.

ATLANTA — Five-year-old Albert Reeves never got COVID symptoms. His entire family seemed to stay free of it all last year.  Yet, a pediatrician examining Albert last summer found an accelerated heartbeat.  

His father said the child somehow got it from COVID.

"We had no clue he’d had COVID. He had no symptoms of it. None of the rest of the family got it," said Bert Reeves, of Marietta.  "But we think it was early in the summer that he’d had it, based on the damage – what had happened to his heart."

Reeves is a Republican serving in the Georgia House of Representatives, and one of the Governor's floor leaders.  His son's story is a cautionary tale for parents who may think children are unlikely to become ill from the disease.

Credit: Bert Reeves Facebook

In the House, Reeves sits next to another state representative with a comparable COVID story.

Darryl Bentley had been an energetic businessman, running a funeral home in Butler, the seat of Taylor County west of Macon. 

Last Christmas, COVID struck and put Bentley in a coma on New Year’s Day. Four months later, he hasn’t come out of it.

"It came on suddenly and surprisingly and it has been a whirl storm for me and this entire family. Because it hit so fast," said Darryl Bentley's wife, state Rep. Patty Bentley (D-Butler). 

Legislators work part time and barely make $17,000 per year, plus some travel and lodging expenses. Both lawmakers have busy lives outside of Georgia's Capitol.

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As for Reeves, when he’s not in the legislature, he is a musician and attorney. And a T-ball coach -- Albert is on the team.

"He’s running around just like any other 5-year-old. And yet his heart is sick. And some point it will start to affect him if we don’t get it under control," Reeves explained.  

Though medication has helped to calm Albert's heartbeat, Reeves said it has inexplicably jumped again in recent weeks.

Reeves said a routine annual checkup revealed the condition. 

"There are lot of families out there who have not done their well child checks this year because of the pandemic," he said.  "There are ways that this virus is impacting children that’s invisible, that you can’t see."

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Rep. Bentley is often a bipartisan bright spot in lengthy House sessions. 

"Is it not true that I am the chairlady of the funeral home caucus and the strawberry queen of this House of Representatives?" she asked another representative during debate on a bill about a new probate bill.  (Butler hosts an annual strawberry festival.) 

Members roared their approval of the lighthearted question, a specialty of Bentley's that typically involves questions about how bills "affect the funeral home industry."

She has kept up an improbably cheery demeanor while managing her husband's convalescence, and helping manage his funeral home.  She often commutes from Atlanta to Butler to Savannah – a 600 mile round trip – where Darryl Bentley, still comatose, is trying to recover in a medical facility.

"That's the thing everyone needs to understand – just because COVID comes and goes, the effects on your body afterward can be so severe. And that’s what we’re dealing with at this time," Bentley said. 

Both families face uncertain prognoses rooted in unpredictable effects from COVID.  More than most, Reps. Reeves and Bentley will be glad to see this legislative session end Wednesday. 

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