GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador – Paulina Carvajal lost her parents, her husband and one of her brothers in five days to coronavirus.
The Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil, where she lives, has been devastated by the virus and so has her family.
There were thousands of infections and deaths in the region between the second half of March and the beginning of April, the total number has not been calculated.
“We all had the coronavirus here at home but the most affected were my husband, who died on the 25th with my father, and my mother who died on the 30th with my brother,” she tells EFE almost two months later.
Paulina, 39, a journalist who has two young daughters, says her ordeal began the morning of March 23 when her husband Michael Gonzalez, who was diabetic, began to feel short of breath.
The couple waited until dawn to go to one of the overstretched health centers, at which time the city had one of the worst per capita infection rates in the world.
After visiting two dispensaries, her husband received an intravenous serum to control his blood sugar levels and they went home.
Everything seemed fine until Michael developed symptoms again a few hours later.
“We went back to the place where he had been treated, but they told us that they couldn’t do anything else and that he had to find a clinic to admit him, but everything had collapsed. No one wanted to receive him,” Paulina recalls.
After several hours, they found a center which gave Michael oxygen and sent him back home.
This scenario was repeated until dawn and it was not until the afternoon of the following day that he was admitted to a hospital.
“When they treated him, my husband was already ill; he had almost no (vital) signs; he was desperate,” she says.
Then Paulina got a call from her brother telling her that their father Manuel Carvajal, 77, had also been admitted to hospital with respiratory problems.
Doctors said 90% of his lungs had been damaged by the virus.
Both men died the next day.
A few days later Paulina’s brother Marco, 51, and mother Eduviges Ruiz, 71, also developed COVID-19 symptoms and died.
Ecuador declared a state of health emergency on March 16 in response to the pandemic.
The province of Guayas, of which Guayaquil is the capital, has been the worst affected area in the country since then.
Guayaquil has had 35% of the 35,300 cases reported across the country, according to PCR tests.
Paulina and her sister were also infected and she says it was a “miracle” they survived.
She remembers the pain caused by her grief combined with her own illness, and that every time she cried, her body got weaker.
“If I had not had my daughters, perhaps I would not have fought for my life and frankly I would have let God take me,” she confesses.
“Everything that was happening to me was hard, but I had to calm down and be with them, raise them.”
Her case became widely known through social media, which prompted an outpouring of support.
“I feel that people were moved by everything we had been through,” Paulina explains.
She says they had to publicly request that people stop sending them food because they were receiving so much.
“I feel very grateful for the love of many people that I do not know, but who follow me on my accounts and leave me nice messages of support,” she adds.
She and her family have kept a low profile since then and are mourning together, supported by their religious faith.