Remembering San Diegans Who Died Battling COVID-19

"All those dreams that they had, just to be taken away like that …" said the cousin of a new father from South Bay who lost his fight. Sadly he is just one of more than 500 victims from around the county

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In just a few short months a virus has changed the way the world operates. It has made some day-to-day activities more complicated and in some cases, more challenging. Sadly, for many, the virus has robbed them of the people they love -- parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors and friends. More than 500 San Diegans have lost their lives battling COVID-19, an unexpected illness that quickly spiraled out of control for some of its victims.

Robert Mendoza, 43
“I just never would’ve thought my son would’ve got this -- he’s so strong,” said Yolanda Mendoza, Robert's mother. Robert was a father to a 9-year-old boy, a small business owner in Escondido and a former Marine who fought on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“He served his country, went to war, and you would’ve thought through all the war, all the danger would’ve been behind him,” Yolanda said.

Robert first told his family about symptoms, including a migraine headache and gastrointestinal issues, back on April 10. Two days later on Easter Sunday, he tested positive for COVID-19. Seven days after being admitted to the hospital Robert Mendoza died.

“When he passed away, ee couldn’t hold his hand or anything,” remembered Mendoza's parents.  

Esther Hernandez, 94
“We’re not going to get her back,” said Rebecca Niebla, who remembered her grandmother, Esther Hernandez. Hernandez was a resident at the Windsor Garden Convalescent Home, in National City. Niebla told NBC 7 Investigates that since February, her visits consisted of viewing her grandmother through a window at the South Bay nursing home. Hernandez is one of hundreds who have died after contracting the virus in a skilled nursing facility.

Maria Luisa Cuevas, 95
Cuevas was a great-great grandmother who also tested positive while being cared for at skilled nursing facility, according to her granddaughter Estela Bailey. Bailey said Cuevas lived at Reo Vista Healthcare Center, in Paradise Hills, where more than 100 residents have tested positive for the virus. “It’s not fair for the families,” said Bailey, who is calling on the county to investigate the outbreak at Reo Vista and to suspend its operations.

Ignacio Uribe, 53
The virus has taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color and essential workers, like Ignacio Uribe, a father of two sons who was married for 26 years. Uribe was a shipyard worker at NASSCA. “Our family has been suffering,” said Amalia Uribe Deaztlan, Uribe’s aunt. NBC 7 first reported shipyard workers testing positive in March. Uribe Deaztlan says the company should have sent workers home until it was safe to bring them back.

"Once he was intubated, we understood the situation was really bad," Deaztlan said, adding that the family is still in shock – they thought Uribe would beat the virus because of his age and because he had no underlying medical conditions.

Robert Fria, 77
Fria had a long list of accomplishments: Vietnam veteran, United Airlines captain, husband, father, grandfather, author, well-known car collector. “I just can’t believe he got this virus and died,” said Joyce Fria, Robert’s wife. “He was my soul mate. We did everything together."

Luis Mendoza, 41
A new father to a baby boy, Mendoza shared only two weeks with his son before being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19. He was a bank employee and part-time rideshare driver.

“He was in good spirits but told me, 'I don’t feel that sick, but I’m having a hard time breathing,' ” his cousin Julia Najera said, adding that she and Martinez talked about raising their kids together.

The doting father spent at least eight weeks in the hospital, according to his family, most of that time intubated.

“All those dreams that they had, just to be taken away like that ...” Najera said.

“Not being able to be there during his last moments on earth -- it just seems wrong,” said Najera.

Derik Williams, 54:
Williams, a Chula Vista resident, was a father, grandfather and fiancé to Carol Althoff. Althoff said he had diabetes and a mild heart condition but exercised often, ate well and was beloved in the Spartan Race community. Althoff said she would have never imagined that Williams, a fierce and fit competitor, would be infected with the virus. “We got to say our, ‘I love you's’,” Althoff remembered. She’s grateful for that, knowing that many families did not get to say goodbye to their loved ones.

The coronavirus is the deadliest virus in more than a century. With no treatment or vaccine available, more lives are at risk and families will continue to lose their loved ones every day.  

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