In the early hours of Feb. 2, 9-year-old Makenzie Gongora of San Antonio, Texas died unexpectedly after being tucked into bed by her mother, Kristle Gongora. In interviews with TODAY, members from both sides of her family say she died three days after testing positive for COVID-19.
Makenzie’s father’s sister Erica Gongora of Austin, Texas, told TODAY that Makenzie complained of having a really bad headache and stomachache when she was at after-school care on Jan. 29. The after-school care center took her temperature and they found out that she had a fever.
According to Makenzie’s maternal aunt Victoria Southworth, 37, of Boonville, Missouri, Makenzie’s mom took her to Brooke Army Medical Center to get a COVID-19 test, strep test and flu test later that day. While the strep and flu tests came back negative, the COVID-19 test was positive.
“Kenzie did not have any respiratory issues,” Southworth said. “There was nothing major going on. All the symptoms were mild.”
Gongora told TODAY: “The doctors told my sister-in-law (to) take her home and to make her comfortable, to monitor her fever, and if it got over a certain point, or if there were any other major issues that occurred, to go ahead and bring her back to the hospital.”
“There was no labored breathing or anything like that, at that point,” Gongora added.
Both aunts say that through the weekend, Makenzie’s symptoms kept coming and going but that overall everything was manageable and she was doing all right.
On Feb. 1, Gongora recalled that Makenzie started to complain near bedtime that she was feeling very exhausted. She went to sleep early that evening. “My sister-in-law later checked on her at night and realized that she was no longer breathing and could not find a pulse,” she said.
Makenzie’s family disclosed that they weren’t aware of any underlying conditions she may have had but noted that Makenzie was a little small for her age.
Makenzie’s school district in Northside, Texas, addressed her death in a statement to TODAY on behalf of her school, Scarborough Elementary.
“The Scarborough Elementary School community is saddened by the loss of fourth grader Makenzie Gongora,” the statement read. “Our thoughts are with her family during this very difficult time.”
Remembered by her family as a bright, young lady who was full of life, Makenzie loved to cook and play dress up and Roblox, a user-generated gaming platform.
Shortly after Makenzie’s death, Southworth created a GoFundMe campaign, which has already raised more than $60,000. According to the fundraiser, she died on her father, Nathan Gongora’s birthday.
Both aunts shared that later in the afternoon on the day Makenzie died, her family got COVID-19 tests administered, and her dad and 8-year-old sister’s tests came back positive.
In addition to trying to manage their grief, Makenzie’s parents want to do everything they can to ensure they don’t lose their second child to the virus, as well, according to Gongora.
Currently, Makenzie’s family is waiting for more information about her cause of death. According to both parents’ sisters, her body has been sent to a lab in Dallas, Texas, to be examined. An autopsy is still pending.
“Hopefully that's going to give us the answer as to whether or not this was completely COVID related, or exacerbated by COVID or nothing to do with COVID,” Southworth told TODAY.
Gongora added, “We just want to know, was there something else that could have been done that could have saved her life?”
After the autopsy results come in, Makenzie’s body will be sent back to San Antonio. Once they finish quarantining, her family intends to bury her at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. TODAY verified Makenzie was not eligible to be an organ donor for COVID-19 related reasons. According to LifeSource, an organ donation non-profit, if someone has an active COVID-19 infection or dies from it, they are excluded from becoming an organ, eye and tissue donor.
Makenzie’s aunts want her story to raise awareness that while children typically do not have severe illness due to COVID-19, they can get seriously sick.
“(Makenzie’s parents) followed all of the guidelines that they were given from the doctors, and the doctors as well are baffled (as to) why Makenzie was one of the children that was taken by COVID,” Gongora said.