Kristie Park stood in front of her family’s Ambridge funeral home last Tuesday, watching from a distance as 78-year-old Paul Bohn was wheeled out of his home next door to a waiting ambulance. He was struggling to breath, suffering severe respiratory distress caused by the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
Kristie yelled words of encouragement to her stepfather, who raised her as his own since she was just an 11-year-old girl. She had to make a phone call to provide words of comfort for her mother inside, 67-year-old Linda, who had also tested positive for the virus.
Kristie’s 47-year-old brother Vince “Vinnie” Prentice, currently staying in the family home, is also struggling to overcome the same invisible foe.
Today, Paul remains on a ventilator, heavily sedated at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. Vinnie is still laid up in bed, “sick as a dog.” Linda, the first in the family to fall ill, is on the mend but continues to have a lingering cough.
Kristie, who lives in Harmony Township with her husband and two kids, stands as a sentinel for a family under siege.
“I talked with my mom, and we decided if we can save one life by telling our story, we want to do it,” she told BeaverCountian.com during a phone interview Sunday afternoon.
The family had all talked about COVID-19 before Linda became ill. A family big on hugging had decided they would need to start doing some social distancing after Kristie’s employer began having her work from home on March 12.
“That made it real, so my family all talked about it,” she said. “It was nothing major, we all decided we had to start figuring things out. It was lighthearted, I guess because (the virus) hadn’t hit anybody we know. We decided on foot-taps instead of hugging. We would tap our feet together when we saw each other, that’s what my dad came up with.”
Other than minor changes like working from home and tapping toes, life continued on as normal as news of the global pandemic raged on “out there.”
The family doesn’t know how it happened, but COVID-19 soon found a way into their home.
“My mom got sick first. She told me she wasn’t feeling good. She told me, ‘I’m worried about your dad,'” Kristie said. Linda went to be tested at Central Outreach Wellness Center in Aliquippa on March 23.
“She called me the next morning and said she found out she was positive,” Kristie said.
COVID-19 hit Linda hard. She was coughing, had a fever, chills, gastrointestinal issues, and a really, really bad headache.
She used one of the home’s three bedrooms and a bathroom to quarantine herself. She started taking Tylenol, the only advice doctors knew to give. Paul and Vinnie were on lockdown in separate bedrooms too, quarantined because of their contact with Linda.
It was about a week later that Kristie got the call from Vinnie. He had just dialed 911 for their father.
“My dad was always the first to be at your bedside when you got sick. He would jump whenever anybody needed him, whether they were family, or friends, or strangers, whoever it was,” Kristie said.
“It’s so unfair, so unfair, that now when my father needs people, we can’t be there,” she said.
Hospital policies now preclude visitors in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, and to free every available resource for an anticipated wave of infected patients.
“It’s awful, it’s horrific. My family is sick but I can’t go there to be with them, I can’t hold their hands. The nurses at West Penn have been amazing, they are very compassionate and understanding people. They tell us to call freely to check on him or ask questions. We would call nonstop, but we don’t want to bombard them constantly. We decided we would call at the same time, three times a day. It’s hard and it’s awful.”
Kristie says she still sees people on social media attempting to downplay the significance of COVID-19. She says it makes her angry and afraid, and it’s the reason why her family decided to speak out.
“I read how some people are eager to get back to work, and I know they need paychecks to survive. I understand that. But at the same time, I don’t think people take things like this seriously until it hits their doorstep,” Kristie said.
“I can say that, because I don’t think my family really did either … I was working from home and we were all kind of doing the social distancing thing. But at the same time, if I needed a cucumber, I would run out to the grocery store to get it. I don’t run out just to get a cucumber anymore.”
Now Kristie is praying. Praying that people who hear her family’s story will take the virus seriously and stay at home. Praying her mother’s cough finally clears up. Praying her brother starts feeling better. And praying one day soon she feels a tap on her foot and looks over to see her father’s face.