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Flat Rock woman spends savings to donate 50,000 gloves after uncle dies from COVID-19

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Flat Rock — After losing her uncle to the coronavirus, a Flat Rock woman is on a mission to prevent others from the same fate.

Jennifer Ruffner-Modi with a truck load of boxes of gloves she bought for first responders after he lost her uncle, Eric Dubke, to the coronavirus in March.

Jennifer Ruffner-Modi, 46, said she has no rational explanation for emptying her bank account this week and buying up to 50,000 gloves for first responders. 

Maybe helping others would help their family cope with their grief, she said, or "maybe because we're fighting a war out here." 

Eric Dubke first started seeing symptoms of the novel coronavirus on March 8. Four days prior, he attended the Detroit Pistons vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game. He monitored his condition at home in Gibraltar before family convinced him to see a doctor. Dubke was sent home with Tamiflu even though he had tested negative for influenza, his niece said.

"I know that his family doctor believed he had coronavirus because there were phone calls being made to the home daily and he had running high temps that weren’t being controlled by Tylenol or anything," Ruffner-Modi said. 

One week later, on March 16, Ruffner-Modi received a call from her mother urging her to rush to a Trenton hospital, where her aunt was after she contracted the virus.

"It was something I had never seen before," said Ruffner-Modi, describing the hospital scene. "Little orange cones where you typically drop off people to the ER ... two people outdoors in full gear and cars were in the line. My assumption was they’re trying to get in here and I saw my aunt in the line in her vehicle."

Her uncle had arrived at the hospital by ambulance minutes earlier.

"I ran to her without getting too close and she said to me, 'Jenny girl, he's gone,'" she said. "I couldn't believe that the doctors came outside to the parking-lot drive-thru line to tell her that he died."

He was 55 years old and worked as a lead supervisor for Detroit Edison. Dubke was tested for the coronavirus after he died and results came back positive, Ruffner-Modi said.

With her aunt still struggling with the virus and the family's strong military background and prepared for battle, Ruffner-Modi combed the internetmedical supplies.

She found a man in Dearborn selling gloves out of a barbershop on Facebook Marketplace. Then she went to a bank and kept swiping her ATM card until it was overdrawn.

"I was pumped up and thought to myself,'God, let this (listing) be real and let me be safe," she said. "I overdrew my bank account by $128 and I could care less. I’ve always told my kids that you need money for food, clothes on your back and a roof over your head. Anything else is a dog-gone bonus. I just laughed and didn’t even care."

With her concealed pistol license and envelopes full of cash, she met up with the seller in Dearborn. Soon, he was loading cases into the back of her pickup. By the time she got home, there was an ambulance at her elderly neighbor's home and she left a case for the paramedics on the scene.

"It was a Woodhaven ambulance, which was so odd since I live in Flat Rock, but thought everyone must be going out of their way," she said. "I left the case of gloves. The paramedic looked so confused but then smiled at me."

Jennifer Ruffner-Modi loads 47,000 medical gloves into her pick-up truck.

Ruffner-Modi intends to distribute the gloves to Henry Ford Hospital in Brownstown, Beaumont-Trenton and Beaumont-Taylor.

"His work ethic was perfect. He never missed a day and was the men of all men," Ruffner-Modi said about her uncle.

"When I get stuck on something, I put everything I got into it and don’t think about it."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_