ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – It was an uneventful breakfast trip that changed a Roanoke County family forever. James Hamlin and his wife of 55 years ate one of their favorite local breakfast spots: Famous Anthony’s.
“She has a hard time cooking now and my dad liked to treat her,” said daughter Dana Heston. “It was the one thing they would go do together.”
No one would have imagined it would become one of his last meals.
“He said that he hadn’t been eating much, so he wasn’t feeling well,” explained Heston.
Both Hamlin and his wife fell ill, later testing positive for hepatitis A.
Heston described her father’s symptoms as “nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite.” She says no one knew he was sick at first because he wasn’t one to complain.
She knew it was serious when he suggested going to the emergency room. At the time, it was assumed he likely caught a cold from his grandchildren, whom he often drove to their various activities and had recently been sick.
After a one-night stay in the ER at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Hamlin was sent home. The doctors advised him to see his primary care physician, Heston says. However, Hamlin’s doctor wasn’t available for another week. Hamlin and his family knew he needed medical attention sooner.
A few days later he returned to the emergency room.
“I was working and my mom called and she’s like, ‘Dana, we have to take dad in,’” said Heston.
After about 10 days in the hospital, the 75-year-old husband, father, runner, lover of his grandchildren and his country as a veteran died Oct. 8 from hepatitis A complications.
The Roanoke City & Alleghany Health District and Heston, Hamlin’s daughter, linked his death to the hepatitis A outbreak at three Famous Anthony’s locations on Grandin Road, Williamson Road, and Crystal Spring Avenue. An employee who worked at the three locations was diagnosed with the virus, according to the health district.
As of Tuesday, the health department says 49 cases have been associated with this outbreak; 31 people have been hospitalized and one has died.
“None of my family wants to eat out again,” stated Heston. “Everybody is scared to go anywhere because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Heston says her final conversation with her dad was about getting his car inspected. Busy with work, she was unable to visit that evening. The next morning he could no longer speak.
Despite his age, Heston says her father was healthy.
“He was a 75-year-old man, but he was at the gym at least three times a week,” said Heston. He would lift weights and was a marathoner. He had no serious medical conditions.
Heston says her mom continues to recover but is on the mend, saying “She’s finally feeling better. Last week I was scared we were going to lose her too. She was very sick.”
“COVID is not the only dangerous thing out there,” said Heston. “We all have a responsibility to take care of each other, especially in foodservice.”
The family has hired attorney Bill Marler, who represents several families affected by the outbreak. A Franklin County woman is suing the Roanoke restaurant chain, claiming she’s a part of its recent hepatitis A outbreak.
Heston encourages simple practices like washing your hands and sanitizing workstations and getting vaccinated.