Nurse 'terrified' to return to work in ICU after aunt's COVID-19 death

The two both worked in ICUs with COVID-19 patients but in different countries.

March 31, 2020, 10:57 AM

Hospital workers across the globe who made an oath to save the lives of patients are finding themselves fighting for their own, with increasing numbers of doctors and nurses falling victim to the deadly COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus.

Jhoanna Buendia, an intensive-care unit nurse in England, said her aunt Araceli Buendia Ilagan, 63, had died of complications from the virus on Friday.

Buendia Ilagan had been a nurse manager in the surgical ICU at Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida for three decades, Buendia said.

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Miami Jackson Memorial hospital called Buendia Ilagan a "hero."

Buendia said that Buendia Ilagan had called her just a few days earlier to check on her and also mentor her on how to care for patients with COVID-19 in the U.K.

PHOTO: Araceli Buendia Ilagan, 63, died of complications from the coronavirus on Friday, March 27, 2020.
Araceli Buendia Ilagan, 63, died of complications from the coronavirus on Friday, March 27, 2020. Buendia Ilagan had been a nurse manager in the surgical ICU at Jackson Memorial Hospital for three decades, Buendia said. Miami Jackson Memorial hospital called Ilagan a "hero."
Courtesy Jhoanna Buendia

"It's very shocking ... It's very terrifying. It's all mixed (emotions) ... I just can't find the right words to explain how I feel right now," Buendia told ABC News on Monday.

"She told me she's doing fine ... Never did I expect that that would happen to her," said Buendia, who also said her aunt had doted on her because she never had children.

Jhoanna Buendia told ABC News that she was afraid to return to work after her mentor/aunt died in Miami of COVID-19.

"To be honest, I'm terrified for my life," she said. "Especially (because of) what happened to my aunt. I mean, life is really unexpected. However, in my profession, we did a pledge that we have to stay strong, we have to take care of our patients no matter what and I'm sticking to that pledge ... It's our job."

PHOTO: Jhoanna Buendia, an intensive-care unit nurse in England pictured in an undated handout photo, said she was scared to return to work after the death of her aunt.
Jhoanna Buendia, an intensive-care unit nurse in England pictured in an undated handout photo, said she was scared to return to work after the death of her aunt.
Courtesy Jhoanna Buendia

Buendia said her aunt, the stalwart nurse, who never complained or showed frailty, had mentioned nothing about the illness or even that she had been feeling symptoms.

Her niece said she was shocked with the devastating speed with which the virus killed. By the time she arrived at the hospital, Buendia said, her aunt Buendia Ilagan was so sick that she died as soon as she got to Jackson Memorial.

"Her husband told us that he just saw her on the floor and she is not breathing properly anymore," Buendia told ABC News on Monday. "He just rushed her to the hospital. And then everything came so fast ... He's so shocked ... In her case, I'm very surprised because I didn't know that she's already feeling something."

Buendia told ABC News that although she was frightened to return to work, she would be returning Tuesday because her hospital was understaffed.

To be honest, I'm terrified for my life. ... However, in my profession, we did a pledge that we have to stay strong. ... I'm sticking to that pledge. ... It's our job.

Buendia did say she felt safe at her place of work because her hospital followed strict protection protocol and had adequate PPE, personal protective equipment.

PHOTO: Jhoanna Buendia of England told ABC News that she was afraid to return to work after her mentor/aunt died in Miami of coronavirus.
Jhoanna Buendia of England told ABC News that she was afraid to return to work after her mentor/aunt died in Miami of coronavirus.
ABC News

In New York, Dr. Russell Weg said that his 63-year-old father, gastroenterologist Dr. Arnold Weg, had likely contracted the virus, when a patient coughed on him. His father remains hospitalized.

"This was about four weeks ago. A longtime patient of his called with a worsening chronic cough. This was when there were just about a few hundred cases in New York City ... The patient called and as any doctor would, he had the patient come into the office ... During the exam the patient coughed on my father to no fault of his own, and we feel pretty confident that that was his exposure ... A few days later, about five days later, my father learned that the patient was admitted to the hospital. It was about a week after that exposure that my father started exhibiting signs of the coronavirus," Dr. Russell Weg said.

He said that his father developed a fever and leg cramps and that within a few days, he had to be rushed to the hospital and placed in the ICU.

Dr. Russell Weg told ABC News that Dr. Arnold Weg, a grandfather of six as well as a marathon runner, was "truly in the fight for his life."

"It is not easy to step into that ring when you know that the outcome can be fatal," Dr. Russell Weg said.

PHOTO: Dr. Russell Weg told ABC News that his father, Dr. Arnold Weg, was in ICU after likely contracting the deadly virus from a patient's cough.
Dr. Russell Weg told ABC News that his father, Dr. Arnold Weg, was in ICU after likely contracting the deadly virus from a patient's cough.
ABC News

He said that his father, who had treated tens of thousands of patients and also trained health care workers, had spent a career running to the hospital in the middle of the night for emergencies.

"I know that my father, God willing he does get through this, he is going to jump back on the front lines and help as many patients as he can," Dr. Russell Weg said.

ABC News' Jessica Mendoza contributed to this report.

This report was featured in the Wednesday, April 1, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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