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Spurred by sister falling ill with COVID-19, family organizes pop-up vaccine event

Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 7:27 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - May Ramirez-Xiong hasn’t seen her sister Navally for weeks and is worried sick about her. Ramirez-Xiong, who is from a large Hmong family, said none of them expected that the 37-year-old wouldn’t quickly recover after she was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“We thought that over time she was just going to heal,” said Ramirez- Xiong, who added that her sister was in good health prior to getting sick.

Navally started feeling ill about a month ago, according to her sister. After a trip to the emergency room she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and sent home to recover. But instead of getting better, she got worse. When Navally’s husband discovered his wife unresponsive on the bathroom floor, he called paramedics, who took her to Providence Hospital.

“They told us they didn’t want her heart to stop and the only way to keep her going was to intubate her,” Ramirez-Xiong said.

Anchorage woman with COVID-19 medivaced to Oregon
Anchorage woman with COVID-19 medivaced to Oregon(Courtesy: May Ramirez-Xiong)

By the next day, doctors told the family that Navally was not improving and recommended she be flown to Oregon for more advanced care. Her sister said it’s left her family waiting for daily updates from doctors in a different state.

“Even being here we couldn’t see her,” she said. “And being even further away it makes it so much harder for us because now she’s thousands of miles apart and we can’t be there for her.”

Ramirez-Xiong said her sister’s condition has varied over time.

“One day we are jumping for joy because we think everything’s going to be fine,” she said. “And the next day I get a call from my brother-in-law and he’s in tears.”

What weighs heavily on her mind is the fact that Navally wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I feel like it was just something that she didn’t give a lot of thought to … I mean not only her, but there’s a lot of people who struggle with the thought of the vaccine because it’s so new,” Ramirez-Xiong said.

Ramirez-Xiong said culture may also play a part. Only recently did her mother agree to get vaccinated, her father still has no interest.

“Hmong people aren’t comfortable with Western medicine, they’re not comfortable with injections,” she said. “Taking pills is sometimes too much for them.”

Ramirez-Xiong said she wants people to have good information so they can make their own decisions about getting vaccinated. But she’s also hoping her sister’s experience may spur some to say yes. To that end, she’s helped to organize a vaccine pop-up clinic on Thursday that’s open to anyone. It will be held at the chalet at Russian Jack Springs Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and walk-ins are welcome.

Ramirez-Xiong’s family has also started a Go Fund Me page to help with medical expenses for Navally and to keep people updated on her condition. Ramirez-Xiong said she’s been touched by the support they’ve received.

“Just to see the love from the community and their support to hear my sister’s story, and be touched enough to want to donate something to her. It means so much to us,” she said.

The website asks for good thoughts and also people’s prayers.

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