The United States hit another grim milestone Saturday in the fight against COVID-19.
The U.S. surpassed 12 million coronavirus cases. Illinois is also seeing a surge with more than 11,400 lives lost. In Indiana, the virus claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people.
55-year-old Juan Suarez was one of them.
“It was a real big shocker,” longtime friend Gino Romo said. “When I got news of the day he passed away—it changed my life forever.”
Romo used to work with Suarez in the 90s at a community radio station run out of the Boys and Girls Club in Little Village.
“Magic Juan was the voice of that radio station, so he was like a celebrity,” he said. “I met him when I was about 14 years old.”
Suarez was known as Magic Juan on the air and would play house and freestyle music. Many listeners had no idea he was blind.
“He would use vinyl because back then vinyl was the thing,” Harv Roman, longtime friend and former colleague, said. “He's feeling the grooves with his finger tips and he's feeling the labels and the album covers and this is how he could figure out what the songs were that he was about to play.”
According to family, Suarez was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer two years ago. By this time, Suarez had already lost his daughter, his wife and twin sister to cancer.
“A lot of people had no idea he was struggling behind the scenes,” Romo said. “Everybody just knew Magic Juan as the guy who was on the radio station that I grew up listening too—he played great music and he was just a soothing voice.”
Then, one month ago Suarez contracted COVID-19.
“It really was a big set back. They had to delay his chemo treatment so his cancer treatment had to take a backseat and unfortunately this happened,” Romo said.
His sister told NBC 5 News on the phone his liver was not functioning when he got COVID-19. The virus impacted his lungs. He was placed in the ICU at Franciscan Health in Munster, Indiana and died on Tuesday.
“I really want people to understand that COVID is real first of all and no matter how defeated you may feel, you have to remember there's a lot of Magic Juans in this world,” Romo said. “Magic Juan, being the person that he was, he was able to touch a lot of lives and he did it through music.”
Roman said Suarez was always "so positive" about everything.
“For everything that he went through his energy level was inspiring,” Roman said.
Roman said he last talked to Suarez earlier this month.
“When he talked to me on the phone, that was the first time he’s ever told me he was scared. He said, 'Harv, I’m scared,' because he was battling COVID, he was at stage 4,” said Roman. “But with COVID he didn’t have the comfort of people being there because you’re isolated.”
Friends will hold a virtual tribute Sunday on Facebook at 4 p.m. for Suarez. They will also honor the life of Guadalupe Lopez, the Chicago 911 dispatcher who also died from COVID-19.