City of Revere, Revere TV Launch COVID-19 Storytelling Platform

Four Revere residents are telling their first-hand experiences with the coronavirus as part of an initiative launched by the City of Revere and Revere TV.

Marvin Pena, Elayna O’Neil, Brittany Sao, and Sara Restrepo talk about their recoveries from COVID-19 and stress the importance of wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance during the vignettes that can be viewed on Revere TV’s Youtube Channel.

 Pena is a 35-year-old war veteran who served in Iraq. He emigrated from El Salvador when he was 8 years old. Pena and several members of his family were diagnosed with COVID-19 in March.

“My cousin lives with my parents and I went to my parents,” recalled Pena. “A few days later I found out that my cousin’s co-worker had COVID. I took it serious enough where I started quarantining myself.

“I went to the VA and they didn’t have enough tests yet,” he continued. “The VA sent me home and they told me, ‘if you get worse, come back,’ and I came back and I was way worse. A few days later I found out that I had COVID.”

Pena said in addition to having a 104-degree temperature, chills, and a headache, he also lost his sense of tasting and smelling his food.

“My wife, my mother, and my brother had immediate contact with each other and my cousin, so we all ended up getting sick,” he said.

Pena said when he walked from the kitchen to the living room “I was completely out of breath and needed to a nap. That’s when knew I needed to get professional help from somewhere else other than the avenues I was already exploring.”

Pena said he was immediately admitted to Mass General Hospital “and I spent five weeks in the ICU. And 23 of those days were in a coma where I was on a ventilator. I lost 50 pounds. I had muscle atrophy.”

Pena praised MGH personnel for its outstanding treatment and care during his recovery process. An avid long-distance runner, he is hoping to return to the Boston Marathon as a participant.

He said that “people should take the coronavirus seriously.”

“The moment they’re affected directly, that’s going to change their mind. If I can reach at least one person by taking time out of my day to say, “Put a mask on, clean your hands – it’s worth it.”

O’Neil, 66, said “after being home sick for a week,” she spent 45 days in the hospital, including 20 days on a ventilator.

 “I was dropped off at the hospital by my son alone and I could not see anybody in my family because there were no visitors at that time, between the Beth Israel Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation.

“Now it’s months later and I’ve gone back to work. I’m a hair salon owner and a hairdresser and the lasting effects I have right now are really severe joint pain in my knees. I did have bad knees, but they got worse. It’s an ongoing disease and it’s still affecting me. I also have no sense of taste or smell.”

O’Neil said there were many people walking around that had no symptoms.

“You cannot take a chance that you’re not going to catch it because you don’t know who’s walking around with it,” said O’Neil. “It’s a silent disease. Some people do get really sick and you know they have it, and there are other people walking around that just pass it on you without you being aware of it.

“You have to be so careful with wearing a mask, socially distancing, and washing your hands, trying not to go anywhere where there are crowds.”

Sao, 19, said the virus spread quickly among members of her family.

She said her father had gone to get tested on March 22 “and he wasn’t able to get tested because at the time testing was very limited.”
“My mother (who is a medical assistant) sensed something was definitely wrong with him,” said Sao. “My father was tested at MGH Boston and a week later, he got his results back and he was positive. His condition got a lot worse. He ended up having pneumonia and a bad fever. He spent 45 days in the ICU. He was put on a ventilator to help him breathe.

“My mother ended up catching it, too, just as bad as my dad. Right after my mom caught it, I caught it, too,” said Sao. “My mother, my sister, and I were stuck in our house for a good month because my mother just kept re-testing positive. Thankfully we had a lot of family that was able to help us and bring us food and everything. But April was a really rough time for me and my family. We called the doctor every single day to receive an update on my father.”

Sao, who was completing her first year of college at that time, said the family has gradually returned to good health and is partaking in its daily routines.

“We’re always wearing our masks everywhere,” said Sao. “We have hand sanitizers immediately ready. We’re making sure that we’re taking all precautions.”

Restrepo, a professional singer who delivered her remarks in Spanish on her Revere TV segment, spoke of her three visits to the hospital and being put on oxygen to help in her recovery. She noted the isolation from her family during her illness and stressed the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.

(Information from the City of Revere press release and the actual remarks of the residents on Revere TV were used in the compilation of this story.)

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