ATLANTA — A family is banding together to try to support six children left without a dad, 36-year-old Juan Merced, who died from COVID-19 a week ago with a baby on the way.
Merced spent four days on a ventilator, unvaccinated from the deadly virus.
"I think if my nephew would look back and think about his family I think that maybe he would have rethought this," said Juan's uncle, Juan Merced, his namesake.
Juan, affectionately known as "Pito" among family and friends, loved his family. His uncle says he was looking forward to expanding it with his sixth child on the way.
He called him a pro with a laugh.
"He was good at braiding their hair and getting them ready for school and he took on those duties proudly. Just as proud as he served this country, he served his family and served his kids," said Merced.
Juan Merced Photos
According to his family, Juan lived out a childhood dream by joining the Marines.
"When he saw the first Marine Corps recruiting commercial 'the few, the proud the marines' he stood up and saluted the television set and after the commercial, he said to his mom at 8 years old that he was going to join the marine corps.
After high school he enlisted, joining the Marines. Juan served four years during "Operation Iraqi Freedom," He worked as a sharpshooter, beating the deadly odds of war which makes his death so much harder for his family to accept.
"It's just difficult to know he could have died at any moment serving in Iraq and he got through that. He came back home and he succumbed to a virus that’s destroyed so many families," said Merced.
Sadly, this family’s battle with COVID is not over. On the same day Juan died, his mother, also unvaccinated, contracted the virus. She’s now in the hospital.
"We saw what can happen and what this virus is capable of doing so quickly to a body and my sister does have some underlying conditions and I just don’t want to be planning two funerals," said Merced.
The family has started an online fundraiser to help Juan’s children.