Place of Residence: Suffolk, Virginia
Teresa was a healthy, artistic 10-year-old who loved to read, sew, draw, sing, and dance. She loved being a Junior Girl Scout and was very outgoing. She wasn’t high risk for COVID and hadn’t been vaccinated because in September 2021 it wasn’t yet approved for her age group. Sadly, Teresa lost her life to COVID in just a few short days. Her mother, Nicole – an elementary school teacher – shares her daughter’s story to inform other parents that vaccination is our best defense against COVID.
Teresa’s mother, Nicole, shares the story of losing her healthy, 10-year-old daughter to COVID.
How would you describe your daughter, Teresa? What were some of her best qualities and favorite things to do?
Teresa was a child that truly loved everything and everyone. She was incredibly artistic and loved drawing, sewing, singing, and dancing. She loved to play outdoors and do cartwheels, ride her bicycle, roller skate, and play with friends. She was very outgoing. She frequently waved at random people and stopped to compliment them. Teresa loved to read and watch TikTok videos. One of her favorite things was being a Junior Girl Scout and participating in all the troop activities.
What are some of your favorite activities that you used to do with Teresa?
She loved swimming and she even taught herself. When we would go to the pool in the summer, she would constantly show me some new skill she was trying to master. Then I would try to show her how to do it a little bit better next time. I miss those special times with her; honestly, I miss everything about her.
How did Teresa become sick?
She was a healthy child. She never had the flu, strep throat, or any of the other illnesses that children her age tend to get. Teresa showed her first symptom on September 22nd; it all started with a headache. She told us that she was mad at the school nurse because she didn’t get an ice pack for her headache. We gave her some medicine after she came home and she seemed okay to go to school the next day. The following day she came home from school and immediately took a nap, which was unusual for her. She woke up with a fever and we gave her some Tylenol. We kept her home from school and called our pediatrician. They scheduled a COVID test for her on the following Monday and told us if she got worse to take her to the emergency room.
Teresa rested over the weekend and we controlled her fever with medication. On Saturday she started complaining of a sore throat and by Sunday it had gotten worse. Her father had her gargle with salt water and gave her some throat lozenges to ease the pain. By Sunday afternoon, she started coughing and wheezing and by Sunday evening she was coughing so hard that she started vomiting. We decided to take her to the emergency room.
At the ER, the doctors tested Teresa for strep throat and COVID. The strep test came back negative and they assumed she had COVID, which meant she had to continue her quarantine. All of her vitals looked good and her chest x-ray didn’t show any pneumonia. While we were waiting at the hospital, Teresa was playing on her phone and talking to a little boy who had hurt his ankle about his Nintendo Switch. The doctors sent us home and told us we would get a call on Monday with the results of Teresa’s COVID test.
At what point did you know it was serious?
We never really believed Teresa’s illness was serious. But, she was still scared about having COVID. She had trouble sleeping the night we came home from the hospital and would wake up in a panic, breathing fast. Her father stayed up with her all night because I had to go to work the next day (I’m a schoolteacher). We had a pulse oximeter at home and we checked her blood oxygen level throughout the night. It made Teresa feel better when she saw that her oxygen levels were normal. Her father called the pediatrician the next morning and informed them Teresa already had a COVID test. They advised him to just have her continue resting. He kept her door open and checked on her throughout that morning. He was on the phone with the nurse, who had called to tell us Teresa was positive with COVID, when he found her unresponsive in her bed. Still on the phone with the nurse, my husband proceeded to perform CPR on our daughter while the nurse notified 9-1-1. A police officer arrived at the house before the ambulance and he took over CPR. The paramedics were able to restart Teresa’s heart and rushed her to the local hospital.
What happened at the hospital?
Teresa was hooked up to a lot of machines. I wasn’t able to go back with her for a little while because they were getting everything set up. The doctors told me she had a heartbeat, but it was faint and they wanted to transfer her to the local children’s hospital. I signed the transfer paperwork and was able to see her before she was transferred. She just looked like she was sleeping, even with all the wires and hoses. Everyone at the hospital was so amazing. When the transport team arrived, they introduced themselves to me and told me what their specialties were. As they were preparing her and checking the wires, they were talking to her and letting her know what was happening. They talked to her just like she was awake. I loved that about them.
They rushed her to the children’s hospital where ultimately her heart stopped. I was waiting to see her in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and the doctors came to tell me it didn’t look good for Teresa. When I walked back to see her, they were doing CPR and using the defibrillator and epinephrine to try to restart her heart. They worked on her for 30 minutes, then called her time of death.
The doctors cleared out of the room and I was able to sit with Teresa for several hours. The medical team brought me drinks and crackers because I hadn’t eaten since 7am that morning. They asked me if I wanted to help clean her and make handprints, to which of course I said yes. I also was able to cut a lock of her hair to keep.
Was Teresa vaccinated? What do you want others to know about COVID vaccination?
Teresa wasn’t vaccinated because the vaccine was not available for her age group until almost a month after she passed. I, along with my husband and two older sons, were vaccinated. People keep saying how COVID is not affecting children or healthy people. If that’s the case, then explain that to the approximately 700 families who’ve had to bury their child. People also question why they should get vaccinated if you can still get COVID. I try to tell people that no vaccine is 100% effective. The point of vaccination is to help prevent you from contracting the disease and if you do, your symptoms hopefully won’t be so bad. As an example, I share that contraceptives aren’t 100% effective, but people still use them to keep from getting pregnant or getting an STD.
What else would you like to share about Teresa’s loss?
My family is suffering from broken hearts because of Teresa’s loss. It happened so quickly. My pediatrician and the ER staff didn’t think Teresa was a high risk COVID patient, because if so, they would have admitted her to the hospital when she first got sick. A parent should never have to bury a child because of a disease that was vaccine-preventable for a huge portion of the population.
What are you doing to help raise awareness about the seriousness of COVID in children?
Since Teresa passed, I have spoken at school board meetings about misinformation that was shared at those meetings. I worked with our local YMCA to host two pediatric COVID vaccine clinics. The first one was in November and the second one was in early December. We also recorded a public service announcement that will be released soon. In all of the interviews that I’ve done, I’ve encouraged people to get vaccinated if they’re medically able to do so.
Nicole is a strong vaccine advocate and shares her daughter’s story to remind others that everyone is at risk from COVID and vaccination can help protect our families and communities. She urges parents to seek out credible science-based information about COVID vaccines and speak to their healthcare provider.