A local college student is working to navigate life without her father after losing him to the coronavirus.
Jennifer Aguilar, 20, said her dad, 42-year-old Antonio Aguilar from City Heights, died after battling COVID-19 for about three weeks. Now she’s hoping her story raises awareness about the severity of the virus.
“I’m so thankful that he literally was the best dad, ever,” Jennifer Aguilar said, as she reminisced on time spent together. She’s her father’s only child and said they had a close bond. “I’m proud of myself, that I constantly reminded him every day of how much I appreciated him, because he was literally one of the best support systems that I ever had.”
She said her father was an essential worker at a restaurant in Del Mar and suffered from underlying medical issues.
“The hospital was my second home,” Aguilar recalled. “He loved living life to the fullest. He had a heart of gold and he was always so strong.”
Aguilar told NBC 7 that she remembers, as a child, watching her father fight through cancer. She said he faced aggressive dialysis treatments, seizures, a kidney transplant and was even in a coma at one point.
She said she knew her dad was considered vulnerable to COVID-19, because of his medical history. For that reason, Aguilar and her father did everything they could to protect themselves from the virus, but somehow, he fell ill and tested positive for COVID-19 Jan 1.
The last time Aguilar saw her father in person was to drop off food for him.
“We just gave each other an air hug and I remember I told him, 'I’ll see you in a few weeks once you get better,'” she said.
But her father’s health didn’t improve. What started as a runny nose and body aches developed into pneumonia. Then Aguilar's father was hospitalized. During his time in the ICU, she said her father’s heart stopped, and that he needed to be resuscitated and put on a ventilator.
“The nurse kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ I just remember I kept crying and I was like, ‘Thank you so much for your hard work and getting him back. And I was like, thankfully he has a ventilator and a bed in the ICU, because I know some hospitals are over capacity,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar was able to FaceTime with her father and encourage him through his fight, but was told if he didn’t make progress she’d have to make the difficult decision to keep him on the ventilator or let him go. The next day he passed.
“Him losing his battle that day made me realize, I’m always going to be his little girl and he didn’t want me to have that responsibility to decide if I had to disconnect him or not, so instead, to make it easier on me, he decided to do it himself so I wouldn’t have to decide,” Aguilar said. “I hope that the time that I had with him, that I made him proud and that I’ll continue to make him proud.”
To make matters worse, Aguilar said she lost her job because of the pandemic. The family set up a GoFundMe page to help her with funeral costs, college tuition, rent and other unexpected expenses. Aguilar is encouraging people to take the virus seriously and continue to follow safety protocols.