New York man loses mother and brother to coronavirus within 24 hours

"Grief is so different in this time of crisis, because we're all isolated," Lloyd Torres said.
Louis Torres with his mother, Lolita.
Louis Torres with his mother, Lolita.Courtesy Lloyd Torres
/ Source: NBC News

In less than 24 hours, Lloyd Torres lost his mother and his brother to the coronavirus.

Torres said his brother, Louis, his only sibling, fell ill during the last week of March.

Louis, who was the director of food services at a nursing home in Woodside, a neighborhood in Queens in New York City, continued to work as the coronavirus spread throughout the city, and in a matter of days, his fever spiked.

On March 30, Louis called his brother on his way home from work and said he felt achy. "It was a huge effort for him to get home," said Torres, a Bronx resident.

Louis, who never married and lived with their mother, Lolita, in Briarwood, Queens, took off from work on March 31.

"He wasn't eating," Torres said in an interview Tuesday. "He said he couldn't keep anything down. He was nauseous. Same thing with my mom."

A day later, on April 1, Louis was in so much pain that he called 911 and was taken by ambulance to NewYork–Presbyterian Queens Hospital. Later that day, an ambulance took his mother to another hospital in the city at the center of the U.S. outbreak.

"It was a challenge finding my mother," Torres said. "My wife and I were calling the hospitals trying to find her."

Hospitals were becoming increasingly overwhelmed by patients with COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the coronavirus.

Torres, 49, works in information technology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and his wife, Chantal, works in administration at White Plains Hospital. They contacted their friends in the health care field to help find his mother.

"On April 2, we were finally able to find her," Torres said.

His mother and his brother were in the emergency departments at separate hospitals, which restricted visitors.

"That's one of the challenges, that visitors aren't allowed and you can't be with your loved ones at one of the most difficult times," he said.

Louis' condition worsened, and he was put on a ventilator, Torres said, adding that staff members at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens updated him daily on his brother's condition.

"They were pretty good at getting in touch," Torres said. "They were providing updates and calls."

Torres and his wife again worked their networks, this time to find the doctor treating his mother. Their efforts were successful, and he was able to speak with Lolita's caretakers. Torres said he recognizes that their connections offered him a privilege many in his situation don't have.

"A lot of other families don't have those resources, don't have those contacts, so I can only imagine what they're going through in terms of getting updated information on their loved ones," Torres said.

Lolita and Louis were diagnosed with pneumonia and tested positive for COVID-19. Louis was soon moved to intensive care.

The night of April 6, Torres was able to speak by phone with his 73-year-old mother, who told him that she was having trouble breathing. She was using a mask with pressurized air, known as a BiPAP machine, Torres said.

"She wasn't intubated but was having help breathing," he said.

Lolita, who was born in the Philippines and came to the U.S. in 1972, was a devout Catholic, and Torres said they prayed the rosary together on the evening of April 6.

"I think that gave her some peace and settled her down," he said. Lolita died the following morning.

"They said her heart had stopped," Torres said through tears.

Within 24 hours, Torres was contacted by his brother's doctor, who informed him that Louis' heart had also stopped. He was 47. Louis' kidney functions had begun to deteriorate days earlier, his lungs weren't working, and his heart had finally given up, Torres said.

The doctor said he tried to resuscitate him to no avail.

"Dr. Ford had been calling me every day with updates on my brother," Torres said. "I could feel the weight of the world crashing down on me."

Torres said he could also sense the pain in the doctor's voice. "I could tell that he and his team tried their best and did all they can do," Torres said.

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Torres, whose father, Florentino, died a few years ago, said his wife has been his rock through these unimaginable losses.

"The thing that we hope that others understand is how serious this crisis is," Torres said. "We all need to be very vigilant. No one could tell how my brother or mother contracted this. I don't think we'll ever find out."

Torres said he wants his mother and his brother to be remembered as faithful servants with a passion for food.

"They were both very selfless people" who lived to make others happy, Torres said. Lolita was a ward clerk at a Queens hospital, and many of her colleagues have shared personal stories about her with Torres since her death.

"A few doctors emailed me, and they said they remembered my mom when they were residents and she was the den mother," he said. "She wanted me and Louis to become doctors, so she adopted the other nurses and doctors as her own."

Torres said he has been moved by the outpouring of support from "friends, family members and even strangers." A GoFundMe campaign launched by one of Louis' friends to help with his and Lolita's funeral costs had raised more than $21,000 toward a goal of $15,000. Torres said he hopes to have a memorial service for them when large gatherings are allowed.

"Grief is so different in this time of crisis because we're all isolated," he said. "You can't have a funeral. You can't have a memorial service. So you're dependent on these phone calls, text messages and social media contact as a proxy for that."

Lolita, like Louis, enjoyed cooking for those she cared about.

"She would bring pancit to her swim coaches, to her doctors," Torres said, referring to the Filipino noodle dish. "That's how she showed her love."

His brother would delight in making feasts for the residents at the facility where he worked, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter.

"If we can help other families understand the importance of not taking anything for granted and staying safe and protecting themselves and their communities, that will give their lives a sense of meaning," Torres said.