Orange County

‘I don’t want her death to go in vain:’ Man encourages vaccinations after wife dies of COVID-19

ORLANDO, Fla. — Husband and wife Debbie and Mike Schafer were admitted to the AdventHealth ICU within days of each other after testing positive for COVID-19 last month.

On Friday, Mike will return to their Celebration home alone.


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“We fought hard. But unfortunately, my wife did not make it out,” Mike said Wednesday from his hospital bed in a rehab facility.

The couple had yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Mike told Channel 9 reporter Lauren Seabrook that he hopes their story will encourage more people not to make the same mistake.

“I want to be very clear, I don’t want her death to go in vain,” he said. “I want, I really want to encourage people to get vaccinated.”

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He said the couple was not anti-vaccine. He said they just wanted to wait it out to see if there were going to be any long-term effects from it.

“Unfortunately, that wait cost my wife her life and it cost me over five weeks in a hospital,” he said.

Mike said it’s clear to him now the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks. The pair spent weeks closed off from loved ones fighting for their lives in the ICU.

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“When you ask them, ‘do you think I’m gonna make it out of here alive?’ And they tell you, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s scary,” the retired police officer-turned-realtor said. “I’m telling you right now, it’s scary. Because they don’t know because COVID affects everybody differently. So please get vaccinated, people.”

In her last days, Mike said Debbie said she regretted not getting the vaccine. It’s something he hopes no one else has to experience.

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“We want our story told, so that it means something that saves lives,” he said.

He said it won’t soften the blow of losing his wife, just six months before their 25th wedding anniversary, but it will help to know other lives could be saved if their story encourages more people to get the vaccine.

“Maybe take somebody with you,” he said. “You know, it’s all about saving lives at this point.”

Watch the full interview with Mike below:

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson,

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.