Ashley Gomez loved taking care of people. For the past 12 years, she worked as a nurse and enjoyed helping her patients thrive. Most recently the 30-year-old mom of six worked managing care in a congregate setting in the Los Angeles area. Her selflessness was one reason she didn’t seek treatment when she first developed COVID-19 symptoms. She wanted to make sure that those seriously ill received help before her.
“She just cared about others. She waited to go to the hospital herself. She’s like, ‘Mom, there could be a bed for someone who needs it more than me,'” her mom, Veronica Gornick, told TODAY. “But she was getting so bad with her breathing, oh my gosh. By the fifth day, I convinced her to go.”
On Dec. 18, Gomez who was 37 weeks pregnant, went to the hospital. and gave birth to baby Corey via emergency cesarean section soon after. While she felt better after delivery, her breathing worsened and she was put on a ventilator. After two weeks, she died.
“It’s devastating,” Gornick said. “It’s just unbelievable. What a wonderful person she was from the inside out.”
Trouble breathing and fever
The family (including Gornick and her husband) doesn't know how they contracted COVID-19. While Gomez was working during the pandemic, she had plenty of personal protective equipment. Still, like anyone, she feared she could contract the coronavirus even from trips to the grocery store.
“She was a little worried but I would say she thought she was going to be OK,” Gornick said. “She was very strong-willed.”
No one else in their family developed symptoms as severe as Gomez. She struggled to breathe and had a fever. Five days after her first symptoms, she went to the hospital where staff tried to help her breathe and manage her fever. They discovered she had a urinary tract infection and started treating that as well. They hoped that controlling the infection would also lower her fever.
As she worsened, doctors performed an emergency c-section to deliver her sixth son, Corey. She got a glimpse at him before doctors whisked him away. The baby is doing well and never contracted COVID-19. After delivery, it seemed that Gomez was improving.
“She was texting, ‘I’m doing better. I feel so much better,’” Gornick said. “I was like, ‘Oh thank God.’ I said, ‘Just take it easy.’”
But that night her breathing worsened and doctors intubated her.
“She was gone,” Gornick said. “The machines were keeping her alive.”
But they’d hear reports that would give them hope, like when she was less dependent on the machines. Doctors suspected the UTI caused another infection and they weren’t sure where it was. Still, they tried treating it. But the family received a call in early January that made them realize Gomez was never recovering.
“Overnight she got a 109 fever and that fever shut her down,” Gornick said. “The doctors were like, ‘She’s dying. Her organs are shutting down.’ She was on dialysis and a ventilator and then her heart was failing.”
The next day the hospital called Gornick and Gomez's husband and urged them to come back to say goodbye to Gomez. As they sat by her bedside, Gomez stopped breathing and staff tried to resuscitate her.
“It was so hard on her,” Gornick recalled. “The doctor goes, ‘We can continue doing this or we stop and let her go in peace’ … So, I’m faced with that hard decision.”
Soon after, Gomez died on Jan. 3.
Gomez loved being a mom to her five boys, Ryan, 11, Jacob, 9, Zachary, 8, Maverick, 2, and Jordan, 1. She never truly met Corey. Her family recalls how she roughhoused with the boys and practiced baseball with them.
“They broke down when their dad told them. It was horrible, devastating beyond belief,” Gornick said. “(Jacob) was like, ‘Sunshine, why did my mommy have to go? Why?’ and it is so hard. I’m like ‘Sweetheart, we’re all here, but Mommy’s in your heart.’”
Two of her children have a different father, who passed away. Gomez and her husband had divorced, but remarried. Gornick said the family hopes the boys can stay together.
“We need to keep those boys together. They love each other so much and look and depend on each other every day,” she said. “We might be faced with challenges.”
The family is struggling with losing Gomez.
“It’s tough. Each one of us is grieving differently right now and it is so difficult because we all love her so much,” Gornick said. “COVID took her from us.”
The family set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for her sons and is close to reaching its goal. Gornick hopes that Gomez’s story will encourage people to do their part to protect others from COVID-19.
“What a wonderful, smart, loving helpful person she was. It’s not fair. She didn’t deserve this,” Gornick said. “I wish people would take the pandemic seriously and wear their masks and social distance because COVID’s out there and it’s horrible.”