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As COVID-19 Rips Through A Missouri Family, A Mom Tries To Hold Things Together

Doctors say it's not uncommon for the coronavirus to spread quickly through a family. And that's hard on everyone involved.
Doctors say it's not uncommon for the coronavirus to spread quickly through a family. And that's hard on everyone involved.

Misty Donaldson-Urriola and Edgar Urriola of Raytown, Mo., are recently divorced. But they have remained close friends as they raise their three sons together.

They generally see each other every day.

That constant contact and proximity – an aspect of family life – is being put to the test by a disease that thrives when people are close together.

Misty says that just before St. Patrick's Day, Edgar told her he had started feeling run down. He had a fever but no cough. They thought he had the flu.

Four days after that first fever, Edgar started experiencing shortness of breath. He went to an urgent care center the next morning.

From there, things spiraled quickly. Edgar had developed pneumonia. His oxygen levels were dangerously low. An ambulance raced him to a local hospital.

"Within two hours, they're like, 'We're going to intubate you.' It was that fast," Misty says.

A selfie with the Urriola family in the foreground. Misty's two older children — Erica Donaldson and Ryan Buller — are in the back row.
/ Misty Donaldson-Urriola
A selfie with the Urriola family in the foreground. Misty's two older children — Erica Donaldson and Ryan Buller — are in the back row.

Edgar "said he loves the kids," Misty recalls. "He got to talk to the three boys, and then they sedated him."

That was the last time they spoke to Edgar. Doctors put him on a ventilator. And Misty was told she and her three boys needed to quarantine themselves.

But the coronavirus hadn't finished ripping through her family. The day after his father went into the hospital, 7-year-old Matthew spiked a fever overnight.

The next morning, Misty heard a big bang. "I walked into the bathroom," she recounts. "He's laying on the floor, kind of twitching."

Matthew had passed out. Misty says he was talking "gibberish" and she was worried he'd hit his head and had a concussion.

She called an ambulance, and when the paramedics arrived, she warned them that the family was under quarantine. At the hospital, doctors checked Matthew and gave him fluids for dehydration, then sent him home. They told Misty to bring him back if his symptoms worsened.

"He had a fever that day, a little bit the next day," she says. "We had a lot of sleep." Matthew hasn't had fever since then. "So thank goodness," his mom says.

Matthew's older brothers, Justin, 13, and Lucas, 14, have also shown signs of illness, such as headaches and fatigue. But with confirmatory tests still in short supply, there's no way to know for sure if they, too, were infected with the coronavirus.

Misty says she, too, has felt unwell.

"I don't know if it's stress, I don't know if it's symptoms," she says. "It's so scary. It's hard to say."

Doctors say it's not uncommon for the coronavirus to spread quickly through a family. Dr. Vineet Chopra, a hospitalist and associate professor at the University of Michigan, says sometimes the virus can spread before anyone knows they are sick.

"If you don't know you have it, there's not really much you can do to protect yourselves," he says.

But if someone in a household shows signs of illness, he says, it's important to designate a room or space, as best you're able to, where they can be isolated from everyone else — and, if it is possible, a "designated bathroom where people don't share stuff with you."

Dr. Alex Isakov of Emory University adds that if you do need to share a bathroom, the person who is sick should disinfect it after every use if they can. If this is not possible, you, as the caregiver, should try to not enter the bathroom immediately. And when you do, wipe down frequently touched surfaces with a disinfectant before the next use, and wash your hands well afterward.

In fact, anyone living with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 should be particularly careful to scrupulously wash their hands often and not touch their face — the same general rules we're all advised to follow now. Chopra suggests wearing gloves and a mask or face covering whenever interacting with someone who has symptoms, and keeping at least six feet away.

"We're humans, we're social creatures," Chopra says. "We want to interact with our loved ones. But, you know, in a time when somebody has an infection, we really have to resist that urge and keep our distance from people."

It's been more than two weeks since Misty and the boys began their quarantine. Edgar is still on a ventilator. Misty says she's got no choice but to stay strong — for her children, and for Edgar.

"There was a time where I kind of wavered, like, 'Oh, this is it.' Thinking the worst," Misty says. "And that made stress — and everything — worse. I said, 'I can't think like that.' It's hard, but we're trying to stay positive."

She's also trying to keep family life as normal as possible for the kids. That means a regular routine for meals, school work and family game nights — and finding reasons to celebrate. Last week, Misty and Edgar's youngest son, Matthew, turned 8. Friends and family stopped by to wish him well ... from a safe distance in the yard.

Meanwhile, the family is keeping hope alive that Edgar will be able to come home.

"We're just trying to hang in there and hope he's still fighting," Misty says.

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