Mom shares COVID-19 grief journey after healthy 34-year-old's death: 'Why my daughter?'

Shanta Batchelor, a hospital administrative assistant, died in August 2020.

More than six months after Lesia Phillips' only daughter died from COVID-19, the grief and sorrow are still raw.

Phillips is now left wading through the pain -- and anger.

"Why my daughter?" Phillips told ABC News. "Why did this happen?"

'My heart sank'

Batchelor grew up with her mother, father and brother in Arkansas. As a child, "she was more concerned about people being happy than anything," her mother said. "She gave of herself unconditionally."

As a teenager, Batchelor "befriended everybody," she said. Classmates were always at their home, much to her mother's frustration.

Phillips said she was touched to hear stories at her daughter's funeral that she'd never known before, like when Batchelor took the extra time to help a classmate practice for drill team tryouts.

"She didn't have to be recognized," she said.

Batchelor attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to study nursing and then transferred to Arkansas Baptist to study criminal justice, her mother said. She was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and hoped to go to law school or work in the court system. She was just short of achieving her degree before she died, Phillips said.

In the meantime, Batchelor worked as an administrative assistant at Arkansas Children's Hospital. She loved her job and the doctors and patients loved her back, Phillips said.

When the pandemic hit, Phillips was concerned for her daughter. She was relieved when months passed without a problem, but on July 27 -- 11 days after Batchelor's 34th birthday -- came the COVID-19 symptoms Phillips was fearing.

"My heart sank to the bottom of my big toe," she said.

The hospital sent Batchelor home to monitor her fever and isolate. Days later, on July 30, Batchelor was struggling to breathe and was admitted to the hospital.

Batchelor's fiancé, who lived with her, only experienced a loss of smell and taste, Phillips said.

Batchelor was given remdesivir (a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use on hospitalized patients) and underwent convalescent plasma treatment, her mother said, yet "her oxygen was steadily declining."

On Aug. 10, Batchelor was put on a ventilator. Soon the 34-year-old's kidneys shut down and she underwent dialysis treatment.

Batchelor died on Aug. 24.

A doctor called Phillips to break the news.

"The doctor was crying and she said, 'We lost her,'" she recalled. "I just lost it."

'Why my daughter?'

Phillips said she dropped 30 pounds from the grief. She's been seeing a counselor as she continues to process the loss and the other feelings that come along with it, like anger.

Phillips recalled when one of her friends was diagnosed with COVID-19. The friend, who had mild symptoms, didn't adhere to the mask mandate, Phillips said. Phillips said she found it was too hard for her to talk to her.

"You have it and you made it. And my daughter didn't," Phillips recounted telling her friend.

"Why my daughter?" Phillips said. "Why did this happen?"

"You can't bring her back, so I have to kind of bring my stress level down," she said. "And yet, I still have to get it out. Once a week, yeah, I cry. She constantly stays on my mind."

Phillips is also angry when she sees people not take COVID-19 precautions, especially in her home state.

On Feb. 26 Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted most of the Department of Health's COVID-19 directives and said the mask mandate will expire at the end of March if cases remain low enough, The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.

"You can't keep directives in place forever where you have penalties, where you have enforcement and you also have the temptations for citizens to be reporting on each other," Hutchinson said, according to the newspaper.

"Why would you do that?" Phillips said of the governor's decision. "It's heartbreaking. I don't want this to happen to your loved ones."

As she pushes forward, Phillips said she finds solace in knowing her daughter's legacy "lives on in all the people's lives that she touched."

Phillips likes to think of those who posted their condolences online, with messages like:

"I am so thankful to have called you a friend. You will be missed by me and everyone you surrounded."

"Shanta was such a caring, considerate, friendly and happy person, and one of the best employees I've ever worked with. Our office will never be the same without her shining smile and beautiful soul with us each day."

"Shanta you were the life of the party, a comforter, a true rider! You showed so many people so much love."

"Her spirit, it touched a lot of people," Phillips said. "She cannot be forgotten."