Coronavirus Took Mom, Grandpa, And Grandma: How The Pandemic Has Devastated One LA Nurse's Family
Since arriving in the Valley from the Philippines a decade ago, nurse Arlene Aquino dreamed of owning a home.
Friends knew her to be funny and relaxed, but also fearless and driven. And by 2018, she did it: She had saved enough to move her son, daughter and parents into a boxy, post-war house she bought in Arleta. At 1,300-square feet, it felt positively palatial after years of all five living in an apartment, with Aquino sharing a king-sized bed with the kids.
Today, her household has gone painfully quiet.
Arlene Aquino died of COVID-19 on Sunday at age 44. Her father, Fernando Aquino, died of the virus more than a week earlier at age 77.
Her 70-year-old mother, Josie Aquino, is fighting the virus as she clings to life on a ventilator.
Arlene Aquino is the latest frontline health care worker to fall to the virus, and one of the thousands of Filipino nurses who help keep California's health care system running through the pandemic. She is at least the second Filipina nurse to die from COVID-19 in Los Angeles, a virus hotspot.
The pandemic has been cruel to so many local families, and it has devastated the Aquinos.
Arlene Aquino's daughter Ivy, 22, is now spending her days arranging the funerals of her mother and grandfather. At the same time, she's figuring out how she can become her little brother's guardian.
Adrian, 11, is quieter than usual, and spends much of his time drawing. His grandfather Fernando, who was also low-key, had been his father figure, the man he called "Daddy."
Meanwhile, Arlene, his mom, was his "other half," said Elisa Murillo, Ivy's longtime girlfriend.
"He's shy," said Murillo, who is serving as the family's spokesperson. "But as soon as Arlene would come into the room, he'd be like, 'Mama, Mama, Mama,' like telling her all this stuff."
Murillo said Adrian would wait until close to his bedtime to eat with his mom, whose 12-hour shift often ended after everyone else had had dinner.
Both siblings were also struck by COVID-19. Ivy Aquino has since tested negative, while Adrian emerged from a fever six days ago, Murillo said.
Family members say they believe that Arlene Aquino likely contracted the virus while at her job at Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City. (A hospital representative told LAist that it was reaching out to its law firm about providing a statement.)
Aquino, who monitored cardiac patients in the surgical unit, was very careful when the COVID-19 crisis started. She made sure to wear masks, though she had to reuse the more protective N95's, Murillo said. Aquino also changed her scrubs before getting into her car, and once home would enter through a side door and head straight for the shower.
Still, she expressed worries about bringing home the virus after she encountered some patients who were showing coronavirus-like symptoms, Murillo said.
It's not clear if that's what happened. Aquino was not the only family member to work in a health care setting.
Ivy Aquino, who attends College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, also had a job assisting with patient recreational activities at The Meadows Post Acute, a skilled nursing facility in Panorama City. According to county public health officials that facility has 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff and another 43 in patients; 15 of them have died.
Arlene Aquino was the first in the family to show symptoms. She went to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills with shortness of breath on May 2. She was put on a ventilator the next day. From then on, her family only saw her by video chat.
Not long after, on May 10, Ivy took both of her grandparents to Mission Community Hospital, where their daughter had worked. Both were showing symptoms of the virus, and her grandmother, Josie, had stopped eating regularly because she was so worried about her daughter.
Fernando Aquino fell to the virus first, on May 15.
When he died, Josie Aquino was in a medically-induced coma. The family dreads telling Josie when, they hope, she regains consciousness, that her husband and only child are gone
But the family suspects Josie, who before the virus was vivacious and party-loving, already knows. Her condition had stabilized in the last week, so much so doctors had talked about taking her off the ventilator. Then, her daughter died.
"We think that Arlene might have come to visit Grandma Josie to let her know that she's at peace," Murillo said. "We don't know. We do know for a fact that as soon as Arlene passed, Grandma Josie's blood pressure started to drop below normal."
Her blood pressure is still dangerously low.
Last week, Murillo moved in with Ivy to support her and her young brother.
Arlene Aquino had initially been uncomfortable with Murillo and her daughter becoming a couple in high school. But Murillo said Arlene quickly came around.
"She would call me her third child," Murillo said. "She was my second mom."
Now their two families — Filipino and Mexican — have blended seamlessly. Murillo's mom was the one to seek GoFundMe donations for the Aquinos, which would go toward helping Ivy raise Adrian, and make mortgage payments on the home their mother bought them.
Ivy is getting help from a family law specialist to become Adrian's guardian. Murillo said the siblings don't have a relationship with their father, who lives in the Philippines.
Also, Ivy has been talking about honoring her mother by becoming a nurse. That scares Murillo, but she also gets it.
"She knows that she would be a very good nurse," Murillo said. "It just wasn't really in her heart until now, when it really became personal."