25-year-old woman cares for her 5 siblings after mom dies of COVID-19

Vanessa Perez's mom was an essential worker at a local grocery store.

Vanessa Perez said she never envisioned herself being the primary caregiver for her five siblings at the age of 25.

But that is where the Phoenix woman finds herself after she and her siblings, who range in age from 6 to 23, lost their mom, Mayra Millan, to COVID-19 just a few weeks before Christmas.

"She was full of love and ready to just give all her love to all of us," Perez told "Good Morning America" of her mom. "She always ensured that we had exactly what we needed. We didn't always have what we wanted, but we always had what we needed."

Millan, 46, died on Dec. 14, Perez said.

She was an essential employee at a local grocery store and became sick with COVID-19 around Thanksgiving, according to Perez, who said she believes her mom contracted the virus through her job.

"We were absolutely concerned because in our household she was the only essential worker and she was older," said Perez, who according to Millan had no preexisting conditions. "My brother had just graduated from college in May and he was looking for employment so that he could provide for my mom and my mom wouldn't have to work during the pandemic."

Perez and her brother, Carlos, 23, and their four siblings, ages 20, 16, 15 and 6, all lived with their mom in Phoenix.

By Dec. 1, Millan's symptoms had escalated from a fever, fatigue and headache to difficulty breathing, according to Perez, who called an ambulance for her mom that morning.

"We called the ambulance and they checked her oxygen and it was extremely low," she said. "They took her to the hospital that day and we didn't hear from her anymore."

Perez said her mom was sedated and remained on a ventilator throughout her hospital stay.

"We were calling two, three, four times a day," said Perez, who had to call the hospital for information on her mom's condition due to COVID-19 restrictions that prevented in-person visits. "I had a hard time understanding so I would ask a lot of questions and my aunt [who works in the medical field] helped too."

When Millan died on Dec. 14, it was up to Perez to comfort her siblings, including her youngest sister, 6-year-old Melanie.

"I've tried to explain to her in simple terms that God took mom and we're going to see her again, but she doesn't really understand," said Perez. "It's been extremely overwhelming."

Perez, who has a full-time job working with high school students, is trying to gain guardianship of her three youngest siblings, all while helping them with day-to-day activities like school and remote learning, and tackling bigger tasks planning her mom's funeral and planning her family's future.

"I'd never planned a funeral before and now I'm getting acquainted with the online learning to make sure they're doing everything right," she said. "My mom was the one who did all of that."

Perez and her siblings have been helped by their community and their large extended family, including Millan's cousin, Brenda Angelo.

"It was something that honestly no one was expecting because Mayra was always so happy and free-spirited and she was always the life of the party," Angelo told "GMA" of her cousin's death. "We've all tried really, really hard to be there for them in any way possible."

"We're a pretty big family with lots of love," she said.

A GoFundMe account set up to help support Perez and her siblings, and cover the costs of Millan's funeral, has so far raised more than $24,000.

"We're one team," Perez said of her bond with her siblings. "That's one thing that I'm extremely grateful for, that we're really united."