After This Student Died Of COVID-19, He Became The First Person In His Family To Graduate From College

Cody Lyster was one of the youngest people in Colorado to die of the novel coronavirus.

A young man sits in the bed of a pickup truck, wearing a baseball jersey and CMU cap

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In the eight months since Cody Lyster became one of the youngest people to die of COVID-19 in Colorado, his family has been inundated with tributes to the 21-year-old.

A procession of 75 police, fire, and emergency vehicles passed by the Lyster’s house in Aurora as a bagpipe troupe played on the front lawn. Three of Cody’s former baseball teams retired his jersey, and a local Little League Baseball organization named its sportsmanship award after him. Strangers from around the world messaged his parents to say that Cody’s death in April made them realize anyone could be affected by the virus and they needed to take it seriously.

Then, on Dec. 11, came an honor his parents, Kevin and Lea Ann Lyster, had long looked forward to. Before he died, Cody was a criminal justice major at Colorado Mesa University, on track to become the first member of his family to earn a college degree. At the school’s fall convocation, Kevin, Lea Ann, and their daughter sat, masked, on the CMU football field in Grand Junction, Colorado, as Cody received an honorary degree.

“The best word to describe it is bittersweet,” said Lea Ann. “And proud.”

“It's your kid's dream and goal to finish college and yours to see them move out into life and see what they do with that degree,” said Kevin. “I'm proud to know that Cody was able to obtain that and that the university was able to do that. It's sad that he's not there now to receive it himself.”

A family of four stands in front of a canyon, smiling for a selfie

Cody was home from school in March when he, his father, mother, and younger sister contracted the virus. Within days, Cody was on a ventilator, his kidneys were failing, and he developed bilateral pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, which occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs. He died in the hospital on April 8. It was a shock to his family and to the staffers at the Medical Center of Aurora who had cared for him.

“It just devastated the medical team that was working on him,” Kevin said. “They just didn't understand it.”

Cody remains the youngest person without an underlying medical condition to die from COVID-19 in Colorado, according to his family. “It really was a shocker not just on our campuses but statewide,” CMU President Tim Foster told BuzzFeed News. “He was the example [to young people], saying, 'You guys are not immune to this virus, you gotta pay attention and be cautious.'”

Kevin said it was fitting that even in death his son could be an example to others. “That's who Cody was. He cared about everybody,” he said.

“He never let a conversation go without saying 'I love you,'” said Lea Ann.

Aside from his family, Cody’s biggest love was baseball. He pitched and played first base for CMU, was a Little League umpire, and helped coach his younger sister’s softball team.

“He could be working out in a field and kids would come up and ask for pointers,” Kevin said. “Instead of just giving pointers, he’d invite them out on the field and show them different things and work with them. He was definitely a mentor.”

Kevin and Lea Ann learned new things about their son from the condolences that poured in. One unexpected card came from the Roice-Hurst Humane Society in Grand Junction. The organization said it would create a plaque in Cody’s honor.

“Lea Anne and I are both like, ‘What in the world?’ And well, we come to find out that Cody would go up there on Sundays and he would volunteer his time to walk dogs and work with animals,” said Kevin, adding that the family has three German shepherds. “Instead of being out with his friends and doing the college stuff, [he would] go volunteer at a rescue or shelter that cared for animals.”

“And he never thought to mention it,” Lea Ann added. “He was never one to be boastful about the things that he did for other people, or animals.”

The Lysters said that, along with Cody’s degree and the retired jerseys, one of the things that touched them most was a $1 million donation by CMU trustee Ronald Davis, the former CEO of beverage company Perrier, to create three scholarships in Cody’s name.

“If that doesn't say your kid touched a lot of people, I don't know what else does,” Kevin said.

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