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Last year, Kimberly Vega threw a big bash to celebrate her Sweet 16 birthday.
She hung out with her friends and danced with her dad. At one point, she recalled, she and her father got emotional while on the dance floor, teared up, and then immediately proceeded to laugh and make fun of each other for crying.
When the party was over, she said, her father drove a bunch of her friends home.
This year on her April 14 birthday, Kimberly Vega said goodbye to her father who died as a result of the coronavirus. He was 52.
Jesus Vega had been in the hospital since March 28 suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Jesus Vega moved to Queens, New York, from Colombia with his family when he was 4 years old. He spent his life in Queens, eventually raising his own family there.
Jesus first got sick on March 21. He initially stayed at home, isolating himself in the family’s small apartment. Kimberly told BuzzFeed News that she, her sister Emily, and her mother, Marly, slept in the bedroom while her father slept on the sofa.
He would cough all night, Kimberly said, recalling how the noise would wake her up at night.
After isolating for seven days, his family convinced him to go to an urgent care facility. There was one nearby, Kimberly said, but he was too weak to walk there. The family got into an Uber for the three blocks to the medical facility.
Kimberly said a doctor examined her father, took an X-ray of his chest, determined that he had pneumonia, and told him he must go to the emergency room. Jesus was then admitted to Long Island Jewish Medical Center, where he tested positive for COVID-19, his family told BuzzFeed News.
For the first few days in the hospital, Kimberly said she could speak with her father on the phone, but when he required intubation, he had to be sedated and could no longer communicate.
“The last time I talked to him, we couldn't hear each other very well,” Kimberly said, adding that the last thing her father told her before hanging up was “I love you, Kim. Bye.”
Kimberly said she didn’t have time to say it back.
From then on, Kimberly said she was unable to speak with her father, but nurses from pediatrics would use an iPad to video-chat her from her father’s hospital room.
“[The nurses] told us he could hear us and that was important to us,” Kimberly said. “My dad felt the love, they said.”
On the night of April 13, Kimberly Vega said she did her hair in preparation for her 17th birthday the next day. At 9:05 a.m., she said her mother received a phone call from the hospital telling her Jesus had died.
“That was my first birthday without my dad,” she told BuzzFeed News.
The family plans to hold a funeral for Jesus on May 1. While only 10 people will be able to be there in person, Kimberly said anyone can attend as long as they remain in their cars.
Kimberly said she’ll remember her father as a caring and generous man who “just loved life.”
“He’s an awesome dad, he’s an awesome brother,” Salime Vasquez, Jesus's sister, told BuzzFeed News. “He was just kind and generous with his time. He didn’t have the money to splurge on us, he compensated by always providing a ride here or there, or just being there for all the parties and making everyone laugh.”
Jesus was a jokester who loved going on long drives and cooking Colombian food, such as tostones, Kimberly said.
“He loved cooking. He made the best breakfasts. His dinners were all right," Kimberly said, laughing.
And while Jesus loved taking long drives, his family wasn’t always on board. Every summer the family would visit Jesus's sister in Florida by driving for two to three days.
“He loved it, but my mom and I were dying in the backseat,” Kimberly said, laughing.
She told BuzzFeed News she has been touched by the number of people who have reached out sharing stories of her father in person and on a Facebook memorial page, as well as on GoFundMe.
Vasquez said she’s glad her niece Kimberly has been able to read the memories and kind words being shared about her father.
“He turned out to be an incredible father of two girls,” Vasquez said, adding that he was “the ideal dad that every girl wants.”
Vasquez said that Jesus's youngest daughter, Emily, has only happy memories of her dad.
“In the corner of the living room, where he spent his quarantine, [Emily’s] set up a picture of him on a table, with flowers and a candle, and every time she passes by she talks to him,” Vasquez said.
Her heart breaks that her brother will not be able to see his daughters grow up.
“He just loved his girls,” Vasquez said. “Everything was about Kimberly and Emily. They were his rainbow.”
Emily Vega was misidentified in a photo in a previous version of this story.