Weeks into his battle with COVID-19 at a Texas hospital, Charles Torres sent a video message to his family. Through an oxygen mask, the 35-year-old relayed a simple but powerful message to his wife, Ana Orozco, and his three children and four stepchildren.
"I love you with all my heart. I love you so much; remember daddy loves you," Torres struggled to say in the message. "Take care of your mother. I love you. I love you so much."
A short time after sending the video, Torres developed a sudden fever and was placed on a ventilator. He died on Feb. 14, and the 49-second video sent on Jan. 31 was the last time the family heard his voice.
"He was afraid if something happened to him, his kids wouldn't know how much he loved them," Orozco tells PEOPLE. "He was already preparing himself prior to him passing away. I'm sure that he had his doubts or wasn't sure if he would make it out, so he wanted to make sure the kids knew he loved them while he was still stable enough to make a video."
"And I'm glad he did," she adds, "because I can show the kids in the future how much their daddy loved them."
Torres' death comes as coronavirus cases have continued to fall around the country while more and more people get vaccinated.
In the family's home state of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recently announced a controversial decision to drop the state's mask mandate and allow businesses to reopen. Over the first week of March, the state has seen an average of 7,219 cases per day, marking an increase of 32 percent from the average two weeks prior, according to the New York Times.
"I understand that some people are getting it and they're recovering from it, but not everybody is fortunate," Orozco says of her hope people continue to adopt safety precautions. "I think it's important people wear their mask and wash their hands, and social distance, because I don't want nobody to go through what I'm feeling."
While Orozco is unsure how or where Torres caught the virus, he first showed signs of it in mid-January. But the family initially believed the body aches and vomiting he was experiencing resulted from the other health conditions he had experienced over the years, such as pancreatitis. Torres also had diabetes, which, like some other conditions, can cause severe symptoms in people who become infected with coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Torres was diagnosed with the illness on Jan. 15 after checking into a local hospital. A few of the couple's children later tested positive for the virus but did not experience serious symptoms.
Years after they were schoolmates, Orozco and Torres reconnected and married in June 2015. By the time they began their relationship, Orozco was already divorced from her first husband and had four children of her own. Torres immediately showered them with love, a love that would only grow when the couple had three children of their own, Orozco tells PEOPLE.
"Over the years, seeing who he was and getting to know somebody, it all came together and made our family complete," she says of the seven children, who range in age from 1 to 17. "Everything that he was made our family complete."
Torres was also known for his work in the community. He served as a firefighter with the Manvel Volunteer Fire Department and was named president of the Austin Diocese Knights on Bikes, a Catholic Christian bikers' club. On a GoFundMe set up by Orozco to help with medical costs, she called Torres "the type of man to help you in need."
Orozco says she is waiting to show the couple's youngest children the video he sent them, as they are still struggling to grasp that he is gone.
"They don't understand. They think daddy's still in the hospital," Orozco says. "When we had the funeral service, my little girl was like, 'Mom, it's time to wake up daddy.'"
"How can you tell a 3-year-old that daddy's not coming back? Daddy's gone. She doesn't understand," she adds. "She doesn't realize that her dad's not going to be here anymore."
Yet Orozco, for herself, does understand what they are feeling.
"I keep expecting him to come in the door, too," she says. "But he's… In my mind, I know that he's not coming back."
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