Former West High football star dies from COVID-19; family hopes for change

Local News

TOOELE, Utah (ABC4 News) – A former West High School football star died of COVID-19. His wife shares his story and their hope for change.

Shortly after Christmas, 33-year-old Vai Lutui contracted COVID-19.

“Everyone kept telling me, ‘He’s young and healthy, he should pull through,'” said Vai’s wife, Lota Lutui. “He just went downhill from there.”

Lota Lutui said he may have been exposed at work.

“Well, what were you doing to protect them? You have three other people that called in on his shift or people he worked around and it was just those guys that didn’t have to come in,” she said.

Hopeful her husband would recover, Lota Luiti said he didn’t have any underlying health conditions.

“He was so healthy and strong, he’s never been sick, he gets a cold maybe here or there,” she said.

Fighting for his life in the Intensive Care Unit for two weeks, Vai Lutui succumbed to his death on Saturday, Jan. 16.

“When I saw him at the hospital, I just have never seen him so weak,” she said. “That was kind of the reality check that oh my gosh, he’s just kinda going away.”

And her young family wanting their dad to come home.

“Our second son, Alani, he’s five years old and really attached to my husband,” Lota Lutui said. “He would draw my husband pictures for when he comes home from the hospital. We were planning to hang it up in the room.”

Heartbroken over her husband’s death, she’s left to pick up the pieces.

“What am I going to do? He provided everything for us,” she said.

Now, Lota Lutui said she wants change in the workplace.

“Just protect them more. Help families not go through what I’m going through,” she said. “With proper safety guidance, making sure they’re tested often – especially if a coworker called in, then let’s test everyone who was exposed to that person.”

In his younger years, Vai Lutui played football at West High School. A football standout, he also played at Mt. San Antonio College and Kansas State University.

“He was naturally talented. He put very little effort into it, but it got him to where he was,” Lota Lutui said.

Following his football career, the couple moved to Utah to raise their family.

“And now I understand why all our kids look like him,” she said. “They’re his heartbeats.”

As they move forward, Lota Lutui said the family will hold Vai’s legacy close to their hearts.

“I think what I’ll miss is just the time he spends with the kids,” said teary-eyed Lota Lutui.

The Pacific Islander Community has the second-highest mortality rate of all races and ethnicities, according to the Utah Pacific Islander Coalition.

Lota Lutui said she hopes people will not become complacent with COVID-19.

A GoFundMe page has been made for the family to help pay for funeral expenses.

“Just take it serious. Make sure you mask up,” she said. “I think the most important thing is, if you know you’re sick or have symptoms or you test positive but don’t have symptoms, just stay home. Like my husband, who would have thought COVID-19 would have attacked him like this?”

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