My entire family survived COVID-19. Here's what I wish I knew earlier

This mother shared her month-long experience surviving the coronavirus.

May 1, 2020, 4:06 AM

Like many Americans, Hilary Sledge-Sarnor, 38, didn’t know much about the coronavirus in early March. The Los Angeles resident carried on with her busy schedule as a lawyer, going into the office and meeting up with friends. But when her family began getting ill, she quickly saw the toll the disease can take.

Although her husband, Lateef Sarnor, 49, and two of her children began to display many of the symptoms of the coronavirus, tests were not readily available in early March unless you displayed key respiratory issues, which they were not.

PHOTO: Hilary Sledge-Sarnor lies ill on her couch with COVID-19 in this undated photo.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor lies ill on her couch with COVID-19.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor

Sledge-Sarnor soon began developing similar symptoms. She rushed to the hospital with a high fever and trouble breathing, she said she was sent home when told her oxygen levels looked fine and that her lungs were clear.

Ten days after her initial visit, she received a positive diagnosis.

PHOTO: Hilary Sledge-Sarnor’s hospital bracelet is seen in this undated photo.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor’s hospital bracelet
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor

“I have weeks that seem completely like a blur,” she said.

Sledge-Sarnor and her husband struggled to take care of their two toddlers while ill and trying to get better themselves.

“We were lucky to have really great friends and neighbors who came to our rescue daily,” Lateef Sarnor told “Good Morning America.”

As local governments begin to assess whether their states are ready to reopen, those affected by the disease, like the Sarnors, still feel like it’s too soon.

“I understand people want to work, they have bills, they have commitments, we all do. But I’m not going to put my livelihood above my life or my family’s life,” he said.

Now, seven weeks after she first began showing symptoms, Sledge-Sarnor said she continues to experience fatigue and has shortness of breath. She grapples with guilt from possibly having spread the disease not only to her nanny, but also to whomever she came into contact with during that time as well. In a blogpost she documented her family’s experience in hopes of encouraging others to take the disease seriously.

PHOTO: Hilary Sledge-Sarnor plays sits with her children on her front lawn in this undated family photo.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor sits with her children at her home in Los Angeles.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor

“We are two healthy adults, and this disease put me on my back completely. I didn’t get this sick for nothing. I have to help somebody if I can," Sledge-Sarnor said.

Read her full personal essay below.

I write this now from my bed, where for the last month I spent the majority of my time. This is the fourth week I have been sick with COVID-19 – not able to play with our kids, help my husband around the house or Zoom with family and friends because I have to save my breath. I am still reeling from my husband having to rush me to the ER with our kids in the backseat because I could not breathe and the stress of the severity and length of my symptoms. My family was all sick, at the same time, and I am still not fully recovered. I still have trouble breathing. I have been wanting to write my story in the hopes that my family’s harrowing tale over the past month would help others. But, I have been too sick, weak and breathless to write. COVID-19 is now rampant in the U.S. and my story is certainly not unique. But when I look at our experience in hindsight…there is so much I would do differently and I want to share what I learned in the hopes it may help others. My entire family survived COVID-19 – here is what I would do differently.

PHOTO: Hilary Sledge-Sarnor with her family at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor with her family at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor

The U.S. was a different place in early March when we became sick and, as a result, my family and I may have unknowingly exposed many people to the virus. We were hearing about quarantine measures being taken throughout the world and, in the U.S., large companies were going remote and conferences and travel were being restricted. But, the severity of this pandemic was actively being downplayed by the federal government – we weren’t yet social distancing and certainly not within our own homes – so, we had no idea what we were facing. We did not know we had COVID-19, or even considered we could have it.

Our two and three year old’s got sick first – that was five weeks ago. Bad colds, double ear infections, eye infections, vomiting and fever. The sickest they’ve ever been. I took them to the pediatrician and that same day my husband fell ill. We thought he just had a sinus infection. Remember, this was before the quarantine, so we thought, like many people with young kids, that we had a regular and familiar illness. When my son was feeling better, we took him back to preschool. The very next day, quarantine measures were imposed in Los Angeles and its suburbs where we live.

The night 30 days ago that our beloved babysitter, Esmirna, called me at work to say my husband was sick and looked bad, I still met my cousin for a quick drink after leaving the office because I felt like I needed a break. This was the day before I started showing symptoms. In hindsight, because my family was sick, I shouldn’t have even gone into the office that day because I was potentially putting others at risk. Even though I wore gloves that day, in hindsight I would have stayed home. At the time, I didn’t know better.

Esmirna continued coming to work every day that week while my husband and kids were sick. If we had known more, we wouldn’t have let her into our home when we first showed cold symptoms. She fell ill the same day as me. She infected her entire household – three grown sons, her daughter-in-law and one-year-old grandson. Four of them were in the hospital for over a week and her oldest son remains in the ICU as I write this. This virus spreads like wildfire.

If I had known more about Coronavirus, I would have done things differently. As soon as one of my family members showed any symptoms, we would have remained quarantined in the house as a family. We would have quarantined the sick person into one room. We would not have allowed anyone to enter our home, including our babysitter of course. I would have called our pediatrician and asked for a tele-appointment rather than taking the kids into their office. Even though I was busy, I would have made the decision to work at home that day. I would not have gone to a restaurant, even to pick up takeout. And it makes me shudder to think of what potentially could have happened to all those families because our son went to school that day.

I may have potentially exposed many others to COVID-19 and that is something I grapple with every day. I may have put others – adults and children – in our community at risk. It makes me cry to think about others experiencing this horrible virus. It especially hurts to think about other parents having this virus and caring for their children while very sick and without any support. This has been hard as hell (ask my husband). Thankfully, no one else that we know we came into contact with was infected, but it is nonetheless terrifying.

Many still are not taking this virus seriously. Thinking if they contract the virus, they will be fine because they are not elderly and have no preexisting conditions. This disease can get bad very fast – even in healthy young adults. I am relatively young and I am healthy, well, I was healthy before this. I ride my Peleton a few days a week and have a blog about healthy eating. No preexisting conditions. I never could have imagined that I would still be sick 30 days later. We are grateful to be alive.

I started to write this on day 22 of being sick because I am finally breathing a little easier. I am still using my nebulizer every four hours, have chest pressure and am resting to regain strength. Yesterday my walk around the block with my family made me breathy. But, on the 22nd day, I woke up and realized that I would get better. For the weeks prior, I honestly wasn’t sure.

If you or someone in your family is sick (even with what you think is a mild cold), please stay home. Use a delivery service or have a friend pick up and drop at your door. Asking for help is important. For information, please call 211. If you have anyone working in your home who does not live with you, please think hard about whether the convenience is worth the risk. Many still think this virus shouldn’t cause inconveniences to their lives. That if they get it, they are strong and will probably be fine. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case.

PHOTO: Hilary Sledge-Sarnor's lies on her couch sick in her home in Los Angeles.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor's lies on her couch sick in her home in Los Angeles.
Hilary Sledge-Sarnor

I have not left our home for four weeks. I am still recovering so I often don’t have the strength to interact — even virtually. Instead of reaching out, please spread this story, in the hopes it will help someone who needs to learn from my experience. I want people to understand how horrible this disease is so they will take this seriously. Each of you staying at home and truly socially distancing from other people is comfort enough for me to know that you love me and, most importantly, your community at this critical time. Time is critical.

Please wash your hands, wear a mask, stay home, and stay healthy.

Esmirna’s oldest son was released from the hospital after the original publishing of this blogpost and is at home recovering.

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