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81-year-old beats COVID-19 against all odds; same family grieves 4 virus-related deaths

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BATON ROUGE - One Baton Rouge family has been deeply stricken with grief during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Eric Jefferson says that in total, nine family members have tested positive for the virus with four of those family members dying within the past month.

At the beginning of April, we told you about two of those brothers who both passed away from coronavirus related complications. 

Their third brother, Joe Jefferson Jr., did not have any coronavirus symptoms, but was tested just after burying both his brothers. 

“It just started a whole other scenario that we weren’t expecting,” Eric said.

It turns out Joe Jr. did, in fact, have the virus. But just a day after getting the results, his wife, 81-year-old Willie Mae, was rushed to the Baton Rouge General hospital where doctors discovered pneumonia in her lungs caused by the virus. 

“They contacted the family, as far as to say her diagnosis was getting kind of worse. And it would possibly be a ventilator (that she needed). But we all, as far as my father, were like, ‘no, we’re not putting her on a ventilator.’ Then they started telling us, ‘well we might be talking about hospice then if that be the case,’” Eric said.

Willie Mae, who has preexisting health conditions, was moved to BRG’s Mid-City COVID Unit where she was given oxygen each day to help with her breathing.

That went on for almost two weeks. 

Her son says all their family could do during that time was wait for daily updates from the hospital and rely on their faith.

“We just kept praying and the doctors kept working on her. It started turning for the better. We started getting more and more better news, as far as, well, she doesn’t have a fever – two days, three days now, without a fever. The next thing we know, she was doing a little rehabbing. And still doing better from the doctor’s prognosis,” Eric said.

And Willie Mae would continue to get better, gaining her strength and health back each day. Her gradual improvement led to the ultimate sigh of relief for Eric and his family.

Willie Mae was able to safely check out of the hospital, and the couple of over 60 years was finally reunited together at home.

“Thinking that one day, you know, I might have, could have lost my father with this because we had so much tragedy around us. And then to the point of my mother, in the hospital. And thinking that we could possibly lose both of them. To the point that both of them are home and doing remarkably well, I couldn’t ask for a better situation, through all this tragedy that’s going on,” Eric said.

Eric says that along with his father's brothers dying from the virus, two other family members have also died. According to Joe Jr., two of his cousins, a husband and wife, also recently passed from the virus. Their family total of 9 cases has left them, like many others, with a lot of questions.

“How did we contract it? Is it something in your DNA? You just don’t know because it’s coming out of nowhere,” Eric said.

The roller-coaster that has been this past month has only made Jefferson family closer, Eric says. They’re now learning and adapting to everyday life just as they would before, by doing it together.

“What we’re taking away from this is that we’ve always had a strong base on our family but this has brought us more and more close that there’s no reason not to communicate. My mother and father they’ve even gotten into – you know- they’ve never known what a Facetime was. And my father, he was looking forward to Facetime. We’re just thinking that distance brought us closer, and God answers prayers,” Eric said.

The Jefferson family would personally like to thank the staff at BRG for their kindness and compassion as they took care of Willie Mae.


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