It was around Thanksgiving 2014 when I last remember having a normal visit with my sister, Marcelina. The second oldest of 5 children and single mom to a daughter and special needs son, she was almost done studying for her law degree. But already, I remember she didn’t look quite right that day, like she was coming down with something. Of course as a grown woman of 43, I couldn’t order her to go to the doctor. So I kept calling my mom’s house, where she lived with her kids, to check in and see how she was doing the next couple of days. Apparently, she wasn’t getting better. She went to the doctor’s and I guess they didn’t think she was doing that badly. With no fever, they gave her a flu shot and sent her home.
Well, within a couple of weeks she wasn’t any better. We had come for Christmas hoping that she would be feeling better. Seeing her looking so incredibly pale, I spent Christmas worrying and trying to insist that she go to the emergency room. I didn’t know when I saw this tree she’d decorated that it would be the last Christmas we’d ever spend together.
She kept coughing and was struggling to breathe but she insisted she would go rest when we left and take cough medicine. She never did get to the ER on her own. But two weeks later, everything went bad fast.
At the Hospital
My mom got her down to the hospital by ambulance. They admitted her right away. Her lungs were full of fluid. When her test results came back, we learned she had influenza (strains A and B) with pneumonia. Suddenly, things started getting really scary. They were draining so much fluid from her lungs, it was like she was drowning. It became a daily ritual to clear her airways. As the days went by, her body couldn’t fight off the infection and her liver gave out. The doctors had to put her on dialysis.
Because the doctors couldn’t stop the infection, they had no choice but to put her in an induced coma. You can’t imagine what this looked like. There were so many wires and bags of fluid everywhere. It was horrifying to see her lying there helpless. This had become the worst nightmare of my life.
To make it even harder on our family, they put her in quarantine saying that she was contagious. So, before being able to visit Marcelina, we had to put on protective gear to keep us and everyone safe. We had to put on these full hazmat suits to be anywhere near her. And they were talking about calling the CDC. It felt so confusing to us that our family member was now being treated like a biohazard, instead of the sweet sister, daughter, friend and mom that she had been only days earlier.
I just wanted it to be a dream and wake up as the days went by. My wedding was coming, my birthday was 2 weeks away. All I wanted for my birthday was for her to wake up and come home to be with her kids and to come to my wedding. I found myself driving, taking my dress to the hospital even if she wasn’t awake to see it.
It seemed like she was in the hospital forever. But the truth is, she was only there for 3 weeks.
Nothing seemed to work. The doctors told us there was nothing more they could do to save Marcelina and that she was already gone. Her lungs shut down, liver and kidneys lost function, and her heart just stopped on its own. The hospital had sent a priest to give her last rights. The day before, I had begged my mom to take her off life support so my sister didn’t have to suffer anymore. But my mom didn’t have the strength to let her daughter die. Ultimately, we didn’t have to wait to make our decision. Marcelina’s body just started to shut down. Her lung collapsed, then the next morning her heart stopped.
Two teens lost their only parent. I lost my beautiful sister. There was an empty chair at my wedding. I miss Marcelina everyday and hold her in my heart and yet I still haven’t completely accepted my sister’s passing. The whole ordeal seems to play back in my head. More than anything, I want to honor her legacy.
Our Family’s Message
We learned while in the hospital that Marcelina had previously undiagnosed leukemia, a blood cancer that affected her immune system. People with compromised immune systems, even if they get vaccinated, often cannot build the proper immune response needed to fight off a serious infection like influenza.
I have also learned recently via genetic testing that I and my son have conditions which also make hard for us to fight infections like flu. After going through such a nightmare with Marcelina, I know first‐hand how serious the consequences of flu could be for us. Our family’s message is that everyone should get vaccinated against flu every year to protect not just themselves but the whole community—including more vulnerable people like me and my son who depend on others to keep us safe during disease outbreaks.
I hope reading my sister’s story will help make a difference and spread awareness about the danger of flu and the importance of prevention. This way, her legacy can save lives.
Angelina Sigala (Marcelina’s youngest sister)
Keep browsing or checkout now.