Parvez Mandegarian never got to give his wife of 34 years a proper goodbye.
Personal support worker Christine Mandegarian died in hospital Wednesday night, marking the second time an Ontario health-care worker has passed away after contracting COVID-19. With hospitals closed to visitors because of the pandemic, none of her family could be near her as she took her last breaths.
“My wife died all by herself in a cold room. She died all by herself, all alone, with kids not next to her, husband not next to her, nobody next to her,” Mandegarian said.
“Now she’s going to be cremated all by herself. I can’t even see her last face.… It is an awful experience.”
In a phone interview with CBC News on Friday, Mandegarian was still struggling with the sheer speed with which the virus overtook the mother of two from Markham. He said the couple’s daughter drove her to hospital on Monday because she was having some difficulty breathing.
“By Wednesday she was dead,” he said.
“It happened so fast.… I can’t really digest anything right now. I can’t even imagine that she’s gone.”
Christine Mandegarian had worked for 31 years at Altamont Care Community, a long-term care centre in Scarborough, Ont., her husband said.
Sienna Senior Living spokesperson Natalie Gokchenian confirmed the death.
“On behalf of the entire team at Altamont Care Community, we mourn the passing of a much-loved and valued team member,” she said in a statement issued Friday. “She will be sadly missed by all of her colleagues and by all the residents she cared for. On behalf of the entire team, we extend our deepest condolences to her family, loved ones and colleagues.”
Gokchenian said 79 Altamont residents have COVID-19, as well as 21 employees.
“All affected residents and team members are isolated,” she said, adding that both groups are now being tested by a team from the Scarborough Health Network.
Mandegarian said his wife loved her job and her co-workers. She had kidney problems and was on dialysis, so she had been working on and off for the last three years.
“She was a very hard-working woman,” he said. “She literally gave her life for that place.”
Mandegarian said he’s gotten calls of condolence from many of his wife’s coworkers, but no one in management has contacted him.
“They are just hiding,” he said. “After 31 years, that’s what your value is?”
Grief and anger
Premier Doug Ford offered his condolences to the Mandegarian family during his daily news conference Friday, calling the death heartbreaking.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to put an iron ring around these homes,” Ford said.
Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents workers in long-term care homes, told CBC News Thursday that she is feeling both grief and anger over the situation.
“Those people, who are predominantly women, get up in the morning and they hope by the end of the day that they don’t get infected…. They pray that when they come home they don’t make [family members] sick, that they’re not bringing the virus into the house,” Stewart said.
Parvez Mandegarian said he is awaiting test results but feels fine, aside from a cough.
Almost 1,000 health-care workers test positive in Ontario
Last week, a 58-year-old health-care worker at Brampton Civic Hospital died of complications linked to COVID-19, marking the first time an Ontario hospital confirmed the death of one of its employees amid the pandemic.
As of midday Thursday, 980 health-care workers in the province had tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak began. Health-care staff make up about 11 per cent of all reported cases in Ontario but only about three per cent of the province’s population.
Now in mourning, Parvez Mandegarian is looking ahead to his wife’s birthday. She would have turned 55 next Friday.
“Just now my daughter called, that’s what she was saying, ‘Dad, it’s going to be mom’s birthday coming Friday,'” he said, his voice wavering.
“I say yes, I know. What can we do?”