June 9 was the worst day of Sherry Tutt’s life. Her sister, LaKecial Tutt, and her mom, Doris LaVon Sims, died within hours of each other due to the coronavirus. While Tutt is still mourning, she's sharing her story to encourage other people to protect themselves to avoid such heartbreak.
“I want people to see it’s not a politics thing, it’s not a race or color thing. It’s just a virus that is attacking everyone until they take the initiative to protect themselves,” Tutt, 40, a compliance analyst in McKinney, Texas, told TODAY. “It is not going away.”
From ‘taking all the precautions’ to tragedy
Tutt began working from home in March. Her mom, 59, was laid off from her job working in a cafeteria at a courthouse and her sister, LaKecial, 44, was a homemaker so they all socially distanced as soon as they could. Most days, Sims visited Tutt and they cooked together.
“We may have run to the store to pick something up but that was the most (we did),” Tutt explained. “We were taking all the precautions.”
On Mother’s Day they had a small family gathering of about six family members. Soon after, Tutt’s nephew became sick, then Tutt fell ill. LaKecial went to the hospital on May 18 and on May 22, Sims called Tutt, asking for a ride to the hospital.
“We weren’t really talking a lot because she was gasping for air,” Tutt said.
Doctors tested them for COVID-19 and they both learned they were positive.
“My mom was admitted to the hospital and never came home,” Tutt said. “That was the last time that I physically was able to see and touch my mom.”
Tutt was released that day and she completely isolated herself. While she worked with public health officials to try to understand where they might have contracted the virus, they haven’t pinpointed a place.
As Tutt recovered from the virus, she fielded calls about her mom and sister's health. It felt like a “roller coaster.”
“It was three of the hardest weeks of my life … I was home sick with COVID,” she said. “The ups and the downs: 'She’s breathing. We may be able to wean her off the ventilator,' versus 'we had to turn the ventilator completely to 100%.' Just not being able to go to the hospital, getting the influx of calls, the good and the bad news.”
Being isolated made grappling with the news even harder.
“Anytime you had a relative in the hospital, someone has always been there to be able to hold their hand and just go sit in a waiting room. So that alone was hard but to get the phone calls and there’s no one's there to hug you or hold your hand through it, it was difficult,” Tutt said. “I was always just keeping the faith that they were going pull through.”
LaKecial had a heart condition and Sims had Type 2 diabetes and COVID-19 impacted them differently, Tutt said. COVID-19 weakened LaKecial’s kidneys and destabilized Sims blood pressure.
“It affects everyone different in how it even attacks the body,” Tutt said.
Tutt spoke with her mom via FaceTime but Sims became so excited that her blood pressure skyrocketed. The next day Sims flatlined for eight minutes before doctors resuscitated her and put her into an induced coma on a ventilator. Earlier that week, doctors had put LaKecial in an induced coma.
“It’s hard,” Tutt said. “Yes, they had underlying issues. But they were living and a virus comes and just tears everything apart. And yes, no explanation. That breaks me because so many other people are now experiencing the same.”
The morning of June 9, she received a call her sister died. Her mother died that afternoon.
“They were just my everything, my only sister and my mom. It was just us,” Tutt said.
She hopes that when people hear about her spirited mom adored by all and her life-of-the party, outgoing, funny sister, they’ll take COVID-19 seriously. And, Tutt encourages people to wear masks and social distance. Even though she has tested negative for COVID-19, Tutt still has a cough and worries she can get COVID-19 again.
“I hope it’s a reality check. It can happen to anyone. No one is invincible,” Tutt said. “We are real everyday people who contracted it and lost to it.”