When Stephanie Gonzalez joined Coastal Kids Home Care in July of 2019, she knew her job as a social worker would be challenging. Yet she had no clue of the firestorm that awaited in 2020, and that when tragedy struck her own family, her experience would help her to relate to her pediatric clients.
As the crisis of COVID-19 unfolded, Stephanie continued to work on the front lines. Demand for pediatric palliative care tripled as families sought a safe alternative to hospitals impacted by the pandemic. While nurses ensured children had access to excellent medical care, social workers tracked down practical and financial resources and offered telehealth therapy.
One family that Stephanie helped was a mother and her fifteen-year-old son Alex.* Living with renal failure, the mother was concerned about her son’s ability to cope with her serious-illness. In November, Stephanie received a frantic text from Alex’s mother. She’d been admitted to the ICU after testing positive for COVID-19. She was being intubated and wanted Stephanie to prepare her son for the worst-case scenario. Stephanie agreed to help and reached out to Alex.
Alex’s mother died the next day. Through it all, Stephanie provided support. She met with the teenager outside at a picnic table where they played with slime and talked through his experiences. Just one month later, Stephanie experienced her own devastating loss.
In late December she arrived home to find her mother, Ofelia, unresponsive. She performed CPR and awaited the arrival of an ambulance. Her mother was life-flighted to San Jose Regional hospital where she could not be treated because she had tested positive for COVID-19. Later a bed opened at UCSF. Stephanie and her family awaited news of her mother’s situation. Ofelia had suffered multiple aneurysms and her health was precarious. A few days later she died in the hospital. Like Alex, and so many other families impacted by COVID-19, Stephanie was unable to say good-bye to her mother.
Less than two weeks later, Stephanie returned to serving others. Still reeling from her own loss, she reached out to Alex. Building on their existing relationship was a benefit. So, in a bittersweet way, was their shared loss. “I saw in him a lot of withdrawal.” said Stephanie, “So sharing that I knew what it was like to lose a mom allowed us to reconnect.”
Brave individuals like Stephanie. who has tirelessly worked to care for others, are the true heroes of the pandemic. Through sharing her story, we seek to honor all those who were lost. If you experienced the loss of a loved one during COVID-19, please call 800-214-5439 to learn more about options for one-on-one counseling or bereavement groups through Coastal Kids Home Care.
*names have been changed to protect the identities of the minor patient.