Ricky Lam shared brutal COVID-19 battle online until the day before his death

Less than a week ago, Ricky Lam learned by text message that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

He had been experiencing symptoms, and had visited the Misericordia Community Hospital because he had difficulty breathing, but he told friends and family he was sent home because he did not need oxygen at the time.

He died just three days after receiving the diagnosis, members of his family told CBC News.

Lam, 40, documented his last days on Instagram, reporting chills, fever, harsh coughing and extreme fatigue.

In one post, he described feeling so weak that even simple tasks, like brushing his teeth or chewing food, were exhausting.

In his last update, posted on Monday, the day before he died, he wrote that breathing had become very difficult and coughing fits were frequent.

"I think he wanted to share because he wanted people to know how serious it was and how things were going — they were terrible," said Lisa Friesenhan, one of Lam's cousins.

Friesenhand said sharing Lam's story is one way to help honour his memory, and will hopefully help others take the COVID-19 pandemic more seriously and do their part to prevent its spread.

Another cousin, Lillian Lopez, said Lam also did not want there to be a stigma associated with having the virus.

COVID-19 has been deadliest for elderly Albertans, with people in their 70s and 80s accounting for 443 of the 510 deaths announced in the province so far.

But the virus has also claimed the lives of 67 Albertans under 70.

Lam's friends and family members described him as a "shining light" who sang and danced his way through life and cared deeply about other people. Full of energy and otherwise healthy, he was the last person they expected to die of COVID-19.

His death, they say, illustrates the pandemic's threat to all Albertans, as well as the importance of following public health orders.

"He would want us to be mindful of why he passed away," said Bonnie Lo, a close friend who lives in Edmonton.

"He wouldn't want us to be sad over it, but just to be careful and take precautions because this is so senseless and so sudden."

Supplied by Lisa Friesenhan
Supplied by Lisa Friesenhan

'Ricky the Fan Guy'

Lam spent most of his life in Edmonton, graduating from Queen Elizabeth High School in 1998. He studied theatre at MacEwan University and, in recent years, held jobs at Service Canada, Shaw Communications and Rohit Communities.

Jennifer Ritter, who met him while working at Shaw, said Lam was one of the first people to welcome her to Edmonton. She didn't know many people in the city at the time and was recently divorced. Lam helped her through a tough time and planned a party for her 35th birthday.

"It's hard because I never did get to thank him for it," she said.

In 2017, Lam moved to Toronto to pursue opportunities in the nightlife industry, but he moved back to Edmonton the next year.

"He had built such a huge network of friends and colleagues in Edmonton that at the end of the day, it did make more sense for him to be there because he was just such a fixture in Edmonton nightlife," said Rosa Jason, another friend.

Many knew Lam as "Ricky the Fan Guy," a nickname that confused Cheryl Sutherland until she witnessed Lam whip out a fan and proceed to "destroy" a dance floor in Toronto.

Lam kept his fan hidden — "like a secret weapon," Jason said — and would brandish it at opportune times, much to the delight of nearby dancers.

People offered to buy him drinks, but he would say no; unlike most of the people around him, he did not drink or smoke.

"It was kind of extraordinary to me, but it was also a testament to how much he just enjoyed being in that space," Sutherland said.

Supplied by Lisa Friesenhan
Supplied by Lisa Friesenhan

'He was trying to help everyone'

Jerry Jin, a friend who also worked with Lam, called him one of the most selfless people he has ever met.

Jin said Lam was always quick to offer help and cheer people up.

Melissa Gozales, one of his cousins, said the family wants people to remember Lam's energy and respect for others.

"Even until the end, we believe that he was trying to help everyone understand this virus and understand what can possibly happen to someone going through this virus," she said.