'COVID Is A Real Thing': Revere Survivors Tell Their Stories To Help City Fend Off Next Wave

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Britney Sao knows from experience the damage COVID-19 can inflict on a family.

The 19-year-old Revere resident contracted the disease in early spring — so did her mother and father.

"My father was in the ICU for 45 days. He ended up having pneumonia; [he was] severely sick," she said. "My mother ended up catching it, too."

The city of Revere is using the experiences of COVID-19 survivors like Sao to help stave off an anticipated resurgence of the disease this fall and winter.

Revere is one of the communities the state considers to be at high risk. So far, more than 2,660 people have become sick and 103 Revere residents have died from COVID-19.

In a new public health campaign by the city and RevereTV, people who were ill describe their recovery and share thoughts about public health precautions like covering your mouth in public, washing your hands, and socially distancing.

"So my symptoms weren't as severe as a mom and my dad's, but I couldn't even move," Sao recalled in a video posted on Revere TV's YouTube channel. "I was really dizzy. I had really bad headaches. I just couldn't eat."

In another video from Revere TV, Martin Pena says, "I'm like the poster child in terms of how sick you can get." The Iraqi war veteran, who immigrated from El Salvador when he was 8, said he lost his ability to taste and smell and ran a temperature of 104 degrees.

Pena was in the intensive care unit for five weeks. For 23 of those days, he was on a ventilator — in a medically induced coma so he could tolerate the tube in his throat allowing him to breathe.

When he emerged from the coma, he had difficulty with his memory.

"I've been married for about a year," he said. "I forgot who my wife was ... there's still a lot of things that I don't remember."

As a previously healthy 35-year-old marathon runner, Pena found it difficult to comprehend the physical toll the disease inflicted upon him.

"First month, I couldn't walk. I have muscle atrophy to this day. So all that affected me going out to look for work."

Kim Hanton, the chief of Health and Human Services in Revere, said she hopes these messages reach high risk communities.

"We know that people are very, very tired of hearing from us. So what we've decided, 'Let's take a look at the human aspect of this. Let's look at the people.' "

The recovering Pena has a message for people who have doubts about the severity of the disease: "It's not just a cold. It's not just, you get sick for a few days. It's very severe. I was lucky. There's people dying every day."

Sao says the experience has changed the way her family lives.

"We're always wearing a mask, everywhere. Every time we go to the store or touch anything, we have hand sanitizer immediately ready," she said.

The teenager regrets she did not take preventative measures more seriously before.

"COVID is a real thing and has killed so many people. ... I'm not going to lose my dad because someone didn't want a mask up and stay home. No, life is worth that."

This segment aired on September 26, 2020.


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Paul Connearney is the Weekend Managing Editor and Weekday Senior Writer who oversees WBUR's local news operations on weekends and contributes to WBUR's All Things Considered during the week.



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