When Tanya Tui’s family arrived home in Tacoma, Washington following a funeral they had attended, their household (including her sister, brother-in-law, their three kids and their mom) all tested positive for COVID-19. Tanya and her dad were spared from the virus and had to isolate from their family. Tanya and her dad stayed at another sister’s home; living in a neighboring town. They had just returned from Long Beach, California after burying their first cousin, Sofara Tui, who passed due to COVID-19 in December of 2020. Sofara was a dialysis patient for over 15 years and had just received a kidney transplant earlier that year in July. When COVID-19 was ravaging his body, he had to undergo ventilation, and sadly he was just too weak to survive the ordeal.
As Tanya’s family mourned the death of their cousin, it was quite a lot to bear on top of being diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. “We feared for our parents the most” Tanya remembers, “it all happened when the virus was claiming the lives of people we knew. Those weeks when my dad and I had to separate from our family, especially our mom, were brutal. The virus definitely took a toll on our mom’s health. She had such a difficult time breathing and she’d say that every step felt like someone had punched her on the chest.” Tanya took her mom to the hospital and was only allowed to stay with her for a couple of hours. Her mom ended up staying in the hospital for a week. “It was very emotional” said Tanya, “We only communicated with her through phone and video chats. The doctors said that if she remained on the oxygen machine instead of requiring a ventilator, our mom would be okay.”
During their mom’s ordeal, COVID-19 had claimed yet another member of the Tui family. Tanya’s aunt (dad’s sister) Faletolu, who they had just connected with at their cousin Sofara’s funeral earlier that month (February 2021) died two weeks after contracting COVID-19. Like their cousin, she too ended up on the ventilator and did not survive. “It was a hard blow to our family” Tanya recalls “and we worried because our mom was hospitalized at that time too. Our mom fought hard for all of us.” After a week of being hospitalized, Tanya’s mom was finally released and able to go home. The rest of her family had all recovered quite well without showing any symptoms. They also all received their vaccinations and boosters. Tanya urges anyone who hasn’t done so, to receive their vaccination and boosters to stay protected.
Sadly, the moment of joy and relief in their mother’s recovery was short lived for Tanya’s family. Two months after their families’ full recovery, Tanya’s dad passed away after a minor surgery to put a stent in his heart. “It was as if he waited for our mom to get better so she could come home, as he knew he was going to leave us.” Tanya reflected, “After going through the loss of so many loved ones and surviving COVID-19, it was difficult to understand. We miss him so much, but he is at peace now. Free from all pain and suffering of this world.”
Mane Tuia’ana is currently serving UTOPIA Washington as the program manager for the Toloa o le Vai: Youth Program. Mane is a child of parents from the island of Tutuila, American Samoa. He has been working with and advocating on behalf of Pasifika Youth and families for more than ten years. Mane tested positive for COVID-19 a week after getting his booster shot. “I had no COVID symptoms at all”, Mane remembers. “My sister was the only one working at the time, going in and out of the family apartment. During that week she started feeling sick, she had a cough, headache, and a slight fever. Soon after, my mom caught what she had as well. Naturally, I went to test but still was not feeling any symptoms or sickness. When my results came back, it was positive for COVID-19.”
Mane had breathing complications already because of his weight, diabetes and hypertension. But as far as COVID was concerned, it did not feel like he was experiencing anything new. This has been the case for many COVID survivors, especially those who were vaccinated; having only minor flu like symptoms, if any symptoms at all.
“I truly believe the vaccine saved me from experiencing what could have easily been the worst symptoms of COVID.” says Mane, “At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a scare when I had full blown COVID-systems to the point where my oxygen was starting to get low. But later found out that it was pneumonia.”
The pandemic did however deal Mane’s family a huge loss. Mane’s uncle died from COVID, as well as a cousin and her husband. This all went down during the early days of the pandemic, when families were first stripped of the chance to say goodbye to loved ones who passed from COVID. “We said good bye to my uncle via zoom while he took his last breath with no family by his side. My other uncle survived COVID, only to lose his daughter and son-in-law to the same virus. I have seen families absolutely devastated because of this virus and still see so many in our community treat this pandemic as if it were a joke. People need to keep their mental space in a good place, have faith and pray. Protect yourselves, and if not for you, to protect your families. We have seen how this pandemic has taken too many lives from our Pasifika families. I am still wearing my mask in public and doing my part to not spread this virus.”