Americans, please take Luke Letlow's death as the cautionary tale that it is
Startbosshogg/Wikimedia Commons, Mike Baker/Twitter

Luke Letlow was supposed to be sworn into Congress on January 3. Instead, his family will be mourning his passing.

Yesterday it was announced that the 41-year-old Congressman-elect from Louisiana's northeastern 5th District had died of complications from COVID-19. He had posted a tweet confirming his diagnosis on December 18th, saying he was "at home resting, following all CDC guidelines, quarantine protocols, and the recommendations of my doctors" and thanking everyone for their kind words and prayers.

Three days later, he was posting from the hospital. Two days after that, he was transferred to a different hospital and placed in the ICU. A statement posted on this Twitter account said that he was in stable condition and receiving Remdesivir and steroids—similar treatments that President Trump received when he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

Six days after that, he was gone. He is survived by his wife Julia, their 3-year-old son Jeremiah, and 9-month-old daughter Jacqueline.

From all indications, Letlow was a healthy 41-year-old. His doctor said Letlow had no underlying health conditions that would increase his risk of death from the virus, and the conditions that led to his death were "all COVID-related." He received the best known treatments for the disease, but when he suffered a heart attack following a procedure, there was nothing doctors could do.



"Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our Nation," the Louisiana congressional delegation said in a statement.

According to NPR, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Letlow "fought passionately for his point of view and dedicated his life to public service."

"As the House grieves Congressman-elect Letlow's passing, our sorrow is compounded by the grief of so many other families who have also suffered lives cut short by this terrible virus. May it be a comfort to Luke's wife Julia and their children Jeremiah and Jacqueline that so many mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time," she added.

While we express our condolences to his loved ones who are undoubtedly in shock, we also must see this tragedy for the cautionary tale that it is. While he was not an outright COVID denier, Letlow hadn't consistently followed pandemic guidelines. Multiple photos have shown him gathered with others without masks or social distancing in the past couple of months, including at his own victory party after his run-off election win on December 5.

The risks of COVID-19 are a bit like Russian roulette. While statistically, the risks are higher for people in older age groups and people with compromised immune systems, stories like Letlow's happen. No one knows how their body is going to respond.

Looking just at the people in the government who have contracted the virus, there appears to be little rhyme or reason to the outcomes. President Trump, who is the higher risk category, ended up hospitalized but pulled through. Chris Christie was in the same boat. Senator Chuck Grassley is 87 years old and recovered from the virus seemingly without incident. And how this healthy 41-year-old dies 11 days after his diagnosis. It's a crapshoot in so many ways.

As we head into the new year, we face two starkly different truths: 1) We have an effective vaccine for this disease and largely know how to prevent its spread. That's wonderful news. And 2) We are set to lose another 100,000+ Americans to this disease just in the next couple of months. Truth number two is incredibly tragic, especially considering truth number one. We can see the finish line in the distance, but we keep putting obstacles in our own way that make it harder to get there quickly.

We can blame the incompetency of the government charged with protecting public health and getting vaccines rolled out and administered, and there are certainly valid criticisms to be placed there. But so much of our problem is wrapped up in our own behaviors. People refusing to social distance or wear masks. People fearing potential government overreach more than they fear an actual deadly virus. People devouring misinformation like candy and spewing it back out as if it's valid. People still not grasping how the virus spreads, despite months and months of epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists explaining it ad nauseum.

Will Luke Letlow's death be the wake-up call the U.S. needs to take this virus seriously and hold the line a little longer? Will his story inspire others to cancel that birthday party or avoid that New Year's Eve bash? Will younger, healthy Americans see themselves in this tale and take it as a warning, or will denial continue?

Who knows. But let's hope. That's really all we can do at this point.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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