"Can’t Breathe. I Love You." — The Last Words Of A Nurse Dying From The Coronavirus To His Sister
Kious Kelly was a nurse at New York City's Mount Sinai West hospital, where he worked treating other victims of the coronavirus. Now, his sister is speaking out for other frontline workers.
It wasn't until Kious Kelly was intubated in the ICU that his sister found out he had the COVID-19.
Marya Patrice Sherron, Kelly's only sibling, told BuzzFeed News she received a text from him on March 18 saying that he was "sick in the ICU, but OK."
He told her not to tell their parents because he didn't want them to worry.
Their parents knew that Kelly, a 48-year-old nurse at New York City's Mount Sinai West hospital, tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, days ago. But they weren't aware that his condition had deteriorated; Kelly, who had asthma, told them it was mild and that he was doing fine.
"He’s always been protective of me [and] my parents. I knew he didn’t want them to worry," Sherron said.
"I asked him a couple more questions, and he said he can’t talk. 'I choke if I try. Can’t breathe. I love you,'" Sherron recalled him saying. "And he said he was tired and he would lay down and wanted to go to sleep."
Six days later, on Tuesday evening, the hospital informed her family that Kelly had died.
In the week following her brother's death, Sherron said she's received a mountain of supportive messages from friends, coworkers, and even strangers from around the world.
A GoFundMe campaign raising money for his funeral expenses was filled with tributes to Kelly.
"I was waiting for you to come to work at 11AM. An hour had passed still no Kious. It’s getting real you’re not coming back," one coworker was quoted as saying.
"This did not need to happen, you did not have to die," another coworker said on the GoFundMe page. "This is a life lost in vain. Many lives are sacrificed by the poor management of this COVID-19 crisis. This has to stop. Lives over profits. Humanity over politics."
Sherron said the outpouring of love and support from people has meant a lot to her. But there was one hateful remark that threw her off.
"It was a very, very, very hateful and insensitive comment suggesting that [Kelly's death] didn’t matter because he was a gay male," she said.
"My husband had to remind me it’s just one comment [out] of the abundance of love from around the world. And I just decided to try more to see that and receive it," Sherron added. "It’s humbling. It’s unreal, really. You feel like you’re not alone going through this."
Along with messages of support, Sherron has been receiving firsthand accounts from doctors and nurses who are treating coronavirus patients without adequate protective gear.
Reports about exhausted health care workers being forced to reuse N95 masks or cobble together makeshift protective gear have led to widespread concern for frontline medical workers. At Mount Sinai West, Kelly's coworkers were pictured wearing trash bags to protect themselves from the virus.
There are issues beyond the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), Sherron said, but to her, it's the most urgent problem to address right now.
With proper protection, she believes Kelly would have been less likely to contract the coronavirus in the first place.
With more confirmed cases than any other nation in the world, the US continues to trail in testing per capita. American health care workers tell horror stories of the lack of basic protective equipment and bodies of patients they could not save — including their own colleagues — piling up in freezer trucks.
In some places, nurses and doctors were among the first people to die of the coronavirus in their communities: Nurse Judy Wilson-Griffin was the first in the St. Louis, Missouri, region to die of COVID-19, and Dr. Alex Hsu was the first medical provider to die in Broward County, Florida.
In New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, 67,384 people have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, and 1,342 of them have died. And with testing remaining severely inadequate, those numbers are far from accurate.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said it's likely that 100,000 to 200,000 people in the US will die of COVID-19.
In the wake of her brother's death, Sherron has been unrelentingly vocal on social media about the challenges that health care workers, including those in Kelly's unit at Mount Sinai West, are facing.
"At this point, they’re extended family," Sherron said of Kelly's coworkers. "They've been very supportive."
She was especially concerned about one of them who tested positive for the coronavirus at the same time as Kelly.
"I checked on him yesterday, and then I didn't hear anything back. I woke up this morning and that was the first thing on my mind: Please let him be OK," she said. "I'm just fearful now, for everybody."
Sherron said advocating for health care workers in this unprecedented time is what her brother would have done, too.
"I think Kious would want to save everybody in that unit that he can, everyone at the hospital, and everyone else who was in this situation," she said. "That's what needs to be done. I can sit at home and process and deal with this later, but right now we need to save lives."