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'Put your masks on': Mom warns others about COVID-19 before dying

The family hopes that by hearing about their mother's experience with the coronavirus, others will protect themselves by wearing masks and social distancing.
/ Source: TODAY

When Jasmin Chavez heard that her mother, Sara Montoya, 43, posted a video to Facebook urging people to take COVID-19 seriously, she was embarrassed. She asked her mom to remove it, but Montoya refused.

After her mother posted that video on July 5, her condition worsened and she passed away from COVID-19 on August 13. Now Chavez has watched the entire video and feels grateful that her mom shared such a moving and important message.

“I am glad she didn’t listen to me. Her video has been viewed over 5 million times and I’m glad people realize this virus is real,” the 24-year-old accounting specialist in El Paso, Texas, told TODAY via email. “I really thought she'd be coming home with an oxygen machine. My family still needed her. I just want our community to take the virus seriously.”

In the video, Montoya gasps for breath as she shares her heartbreaking story:

“Never in my life did I ever think that I would be fighting for my breath, something that we take for granted every day when we wake up. Please do not put your families at risk. I did the best that I thought I could. It is not worth it. Put your masks on. Don’t go out if you don’t have to,” she said. “I have fought too hard to have the life that I have now and I refuse to give up. I miss my kids. I miss my husband … With the grace of God I will be walking out of this hospital. I don’t know when but I will."

‘Unbearable fevers’

At the end of June, Montoya felt sick with what she thought was a "simple sinus infection." As it got worse, she visited a local hospital where doctors sent her home because she didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms, Chavez said. Montoya was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, but she visited a COVID-19 testing site for a test.

As she waited for the results, she developed “unbearable fevers” and her husband called an ambulance. On July 1, she was admitted to the hospital and learned she was positive for COVID-19. By July 3, her husband was also hospitalized. While she only required oxygen for the first part of her 44-day stay, she eventually needed to be intubated.

“Before getting ventilated, I spoke to my mother,” Chavez said. “I instantly began to break down and cry … ‘No llores mi nina’ were the last words I heard from my mother.”

Sara Montoya did not plan for her death and the family is struggling with the arrangements. They started a GoFundMe to help cover the expenses from her unexpected death from COVID-19. Courtesy Jasmin Chavez

Montoya said "no more tears" as a crying Chavez tried comforting her mother by saying, “You’re going to be OK." Two hours later, Chavez called back and her mom had been intubated. A week later, doctors discovered Montoya had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in her lungs. While the news worried the family, Montoya seemed to improve over time.

“We were able to Zoom her. It was one of the hardest things to see my mother with all these tubes coming from her mouth and chest,” she said. “There were times her face was so swollen her eyes were tightly shut.”

Sara Montoya's daughters Jasmin, 24, Valerie, 23, and Deborah, 20, are doing "the best they can" after their mom died from COVID-19 on August 13. Courtesy Jasmin Chavez

The family kept close contact with her care team at the hospital and soon learned that doctors had few other treatment options for Montoya. On August 13, she passed away at age 43.

In Sara Montoya's Facebook video she shared how much she missed her husband who was also in the hospital with COVID-19. He returned home after four days, but Montoya died after 44 days in the hospital. Courtesy Jasmin Chavez

“She was so young,” Chavez said. “She had a long life ahead of her to live. She had her first grandson on the way in November.”

Warning others

Montoya was a homemaker so she only left the house for “essentials, such as groceries, cleaning, supplies, etc.” Her husband and father-in-law also tested positive for COVID-19. While her husband spent four days in the hospital, her father-in-law had no symptoms and simply isolated himself at home. The family said Montoya had no underlying conditions and was bereft by the death of their matriarch. But they want others to learn from Montoya's experience.

“People should take this virus seriously and continue to stay home if they can,” Chavez said. “I tried to be my mom’s voice as best as I could to do everything in my power to get her home."

Sara Montoya's family hopes that people learn from her tragic experience with COVID-19 and protect themselves from the illness by hand washing, mask wearing and staying at home. Courtesy Jasmin Chavez

The family set up a GoFundMe to raise money for their mother's unexpected funeral expenses. Chavez encourages people to be safe and do what they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I want people to continue to wear their masks, wash their hands, and only leave their house when necessary,” she said. “There is not a cure."