Alan Merrill is pictured at PlayStation Theater on June 21, 2018 in New York.
The wife of singer and songwriter Alan Merrill, who died of coronavirus Sunday in New York, is calling attention to the country’s “lack of preparation” for the ongoing pandemic by sharing a devastating account of her husband’s final hours.
“There was nothing I could do for Alan except watch him get worse,” Joanna Lisanti wrote in an emotional statement shared on social media by friends and family members this week.
The 69-year-old musician, who co-wrote Joan Jett’s iconic hit “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” died at Mount Sinai Hospital about two weeks after he began having symptoms.
He initially thought he was getting a cold, but even as his condition gradually worsened, the family was told he would not be tested unless his symptoms were severe — a painful reality many Americans are facing as authorities scramble to make COVID-19 testing more widely available.
“When he finally couldn’t breathe, was so cold he needed piles of blankets on top of him, and couldn't sleep, I called an ambulance,” Lisanti wrote.
Ten hours after he was admitted into the hospital on Saturday, his wife learned he did test positive and would be moved into the intensive care unit. But a doctor later called her saying he would not be brought into the ICU because “his lungs were too destroyed to work,” Lisanti recalled.
“I asked if he had to die alone, and the doctor said I could come say goodbye,” she wrote.
At the hospital, Lisanti said she argued with three different security guards until a nurse finally let her into the emergency room.
“The doctor who called me came to meet me and apologized and said that his numbers were now better and he was going to be transferred to the ICU where he could get the care he needed,” she wrote.
But the clock kept ticking and Merrill was still not getting the help he needed, Lisanti said.
“My husband should have been moved to the place where the experts who were there on the front lines could help him,” she wrote. “Every 15 minutes I would ask when he was going to be transferred and they would say in the next few minutes, but that never happened.”
When they were finally ready to transfer him around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Lisanti said she decided to leave as she was exhausted and “not willing to battle another group of security guards in ICU.”
Minutes later, the painful back-and-forth came to an end.
“I walked 3 blocks towards home and the doctor called me to say he was gone, his heart and lungs just stopped beating from all the pressure they were under,” Lisanti wrote.
Watching him languish in the hospital for 14 hours made her wonder whether he would’ve survived if he’d been seen by a doctor early on and brought to the ICU as soon as he went to the hospital.
“Maybe if he was there, he would have had a fighting chance at least for those 15 hours, but of course we will never know,” Lisanti said. “And now I have to grieve alone in quarantine.”
Merrill is also survived by son and two daughters.
The Bronx native wrote “I Love Rock N’ Roll” with bandmate Jake Hooker when they were in The Arrows in 1975. Rock star Joan Jett saw them perform the iconic tune on a British TV show and ended up recording her own version in 1982. The song became a major hit and was the No. 1 song in the U.S. for eight weeks that year.
Merrill, who was also a guitarist and an actor, launched his musical career in Japan and had hits in both Japanese and English.
His wife said she hopes her story will show the public how serious this pandemic is — and how ill-prepared the country seems to be.
“Please know that I write this not for sympathy, but to let you know the reality of this disease and our country’s lack of preparation for it,” Lisanti said. “I urge you to REALLY take this seriously, and when the time comes, show your anger to the officials who knew this was coming and did nothing to prepare.”