Chicago mom who lost her 12-year-old son to COVID: “It’s too hard, and I miss my son”
Rina Miller spent her days and nights caring for her son with Down’s Syndrome.
Shortly after Alonso Moreira’s 12th birthday earlier this month, they both started having trouble breathing. They had been infected with the coronavirus.
Paramedics took them to Stroger Hospital, where they were placed at opposite ends of the hospital. Miller said she unsuccessfully pleaded with doctors to transfer Alonso to a hospital better suited to her age and condition.
Two days later, a doctor came to his room and told him that Alonso had passed away.
“It’s too hard, and I miss my son,” Miller said through tears.
Since the pandemic began last year, nine children aged 15 and under have died from COVID-19 in Cook County. Most had underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of dying from the coronavirus. In early August, a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy died. In June, a 7-year-old girl with leukemia died.
Their deaths highlight the particular dangers COVID poses to medically vulnerable children.
“Children with any type of underlying disease are at greater risk of contracting more severe COVID disease if they are infected,” said Dr. Tina Tan, pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital . “And a lot of these kids will be hospitalized. And unfortunately, some of them will die.
Common underlying conditions in children who die from COVID include obesity, diabetes, and asthma. And children with Down syndrome are 10 times more likely to die from the virus.
Tan said children in minority communities are more likely to contract the virus and therefore die from it.
“These children come from multigenerational homes with less easy access to health care, likely have an underlying disease such as obesity or asthma, and generally come from disadvantaged socio-economic areas where there is a disparity in health. ‘access to health care, “she said.
There is no evidence that children are getting sicker from the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, Tan said. But more children are infected because the variant is more easily transmitted, and many children are not vaccinated, even though the vaccine was approved in May for children as young as 12 years old.
Childhood coronavirus cases have risen sharply since the start of the summer, from about 38,000 cases per week in July to 180,000 per week in August, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Miller lives in Lawndale, where the vaccination rate is lower than many areas of Chicago, according to city data.
Miller said neither she nor her son had been vaccinated, although she had planned to be vaccinated eventually for herself and her son.
Since being released from the hospital, Miller has said she has been struggling even more financially than she has been. She said she did odd jobs, but “sometimes they pay me, and sometimes they don’t,” she said.
Miller said her state ID card had expired and she had not received a new one, so she could not apply for Medicaid. She said she got rid of her belongings after she and her son fell ill, fearing it was possible that she could be infected again, although there is no medical basis to that.
“We have nothing,” she said, waving an arm across her basement apartment, sterile except for a chair and a small stack of hospital papers.
Miller said she traveled across town to file documents for a new ID in hopes of being able to pay for her son’s funeral. For now, his body remains in the morgue. She said she had contacted charities but had not received a response.
“I pray to God to be strong,” Miller said. “We pray that God will take care of this.”
Alonso’s family has started an online fundraiser to help pay for his funeral.