Roanoke County residents James Hamlin and his wife Victoria ate breakfast together at Famous Anthony’s a couple of times every month. After 55 years of marriage, they enjoyed spending time together at their favorite breakfast place.
But after their most recent visit in August, they both fell ill.
James Hamlin felt nauseous and tired, but he wasn’t one to complain about being sick. He assumed he caught a cold from one of his grandchildren, whom he often drove to sports practices and music recitals.
Soon enough, he asked his family to take him to the emergency room at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. He was sent home, but his family took him back a few days later when he started to feel worse. After about 10 days in the hospital, the 75-year-old died Oct. 8 from hepatitis A complications.
His daughter, Dana Heston, said the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts have linked Hamlin’s death to a hepatitis A outbreak at three Famous Anthony’s locations — on Grandin Road, Crystal Spring Avenue and Williamson Road. An employee who worked at all three locations was diagnosed with the virus.
As of Wednesday, the health department identified 44 cases with at least 26 hospitalizations and one death.
Heston, of Cave Spring, said her father was a strong and healthy man. He worked out three times per week — lifting weights, riding a stationary bike and walking. He did not have any serious medical conditions.
“The hepatitis A caused his death,” she said. “He had no idea it was something this serious. By the time we knew it was really serious, he was asking to go to the emergency room.”
Heston visited him in the hospital between work and caring for her children. At first, he seemed tired but was still doing well. He told her he needed to get his car’s state inspection renewed and she told him not to worry about it. The next morning, he was too weak to talk.
“That was the last conversation we had,” she said. “He got sick very suddenly. The doctors kept saying there was nothing else they could do and it was really hard to watch him suffer.”
Hamlin and his wife moved to the Roanoke area in 2017 to help Heston and be close to her seven children. The Hamlins’ son, Jim Hamlin, and his daughter Samantha live in Minnesota.
Heston said her father attended all of her children’s sports games, practices and school events, just like he did when she and her brother were kids.
Jim Hamlin said his father stood at an empty track every Saturday in the summer as Jim practiced for his races in high school. His father recorded every split and critiqued his son’s form. Eventually, Jim Hamlin ran track at California State University, Chico, and said he wouldn’t have accomplished it without his dad.
Heston experienced something similar when she went back to college in her 30s. She remembers sitting with her father as they struggled through her physics class together. She juggled school, work and her family, and he helped her manage it all.
“I ended up passing that class and I don’t think I could have done it without his help,” she said. “He was a really giving person. You could always count on him to be there.”
Heston said her mother, 78, still feels ill, but they monitor her closely to make sure her condition isn’t worsening. The suddenness of her dad’s illness makes the situation all the more scary and devastating.
The family has hired Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who is now representing multiple families affected by the outbreak. A Franklin County woman has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant chain for the severe illness she suffered from hepatitis A exposure, according to the lawsuit.
The loss of their father will leave a huge hole in the family, Jim Hamlin said. Their dad sacrificed for all of his kids and grandkids and helped support everyone. The Heston family recently welcomed James Hamlin’s great-granddaughter, whom he will never meet.
“What happened to my dad was preventable,” Jim Hamlin said. “I understand the person wasn’t aware that they were sick, but my dad is still gone. I would just ask that people not make assumptions. Wash your hands, wear your gloves because you just never know what could happen.”