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In this together Tales from Louisiana during the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. Hundreds of thousands of people have been physically impacted by COVID-19 and that number grows exponentially every day. Others feel the effects of the global crisis through changes to everyday activities while trillions of dollars are poured into the economy.

But behind every number is a person.

This is a collection of some of the many stories we’ve told since the pandemic made its way to our country. Some will inspire you. Others will make you cry. But at the end of the day, we hope to help you feel more connected to the human condition.

If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we are all connected in more ways than any of us ever truly appreciated. No longer can we take that for granted.

We thank all of you for sharing your stories, your lives, and your time with us.

tHE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME

Life in Louisiana changed on March 22, 2020. That was the day Governor John Bel Edwards issued a stay at home order. Only essential businesses were allowed to remain open. Restaurants were included on that list, but only for to-go orders.

Drive-thru was now the norm and MePa's Diner in Central was no different. But as WAFB's Rick Portier learned, there's always at least one exception to every rule.

Over the last two years, Bill and his wife, Ruth, have become like family to the restaurant's owner, Melissa Dykes.

When the governor ordered all dining rooms closed, Dykes knew she could not lock Bill and Ruth out of her restaurant, or her life.

"I said, 'we've got to take care of Bill and Ruth. If it was my mother, I would want somebody to help. My mother is out in the parking lot right now, and I can't hug her. But I can do something for Miss Ruth. It's what my heart needed to do."

Ruth has dementia. Some days are better than others. Keeping her daily routine helps to create more of those good day.

"It's important we do a lot of the same things," Bill said, "otherwise, she gets confused.

In this time that seems confusing to all of us, it’s a joy to know that some people are going to extraordinary measures to make sure Bill and Ruth can remain as normal as possible.

THE FRONT LINE OF COVID-19

So many sacrifices are being made every day, especially by those who are working in our hospitals. WAFB's Elizabeth Vowell got the chance to be part of a very special moment with a very special family.

James is an ICU nurse at Ochsner Medical Center in Baton Rouge. He has three young kids at home, and Katie, his wife, was pregnant with number four when the outbreak began.

To keep his family safe, James had to distance himself from his family.

“It’s been difficult, but I’m so incredibly proud of him and his coworkers and anybody on the front line. I can imagine that it’s scary for them to walk into work every day,” said Katie.

James says he's just doing his job.

“It’s a small sacrifice compared to what the patients and the family members of this virus are having to go through,” said James.

When it was time for the baby to arrive, James and Katie had a plan. She would have to do it alone - without her husband or family by her side. But when she went into labor, that was a hard pill for James to swallow.

“I panicked. I had to be as close as possible to her so, I threw some clothes on, drove to the hospital, and sat in the parking lot just waiting to get updates,” said James.
When the baby, a boy named Andrew, made his debut a nurse called James and told him to run out to the sidewalk. She held Andrew up to the window, just moments old, while his dad waved from below.

Katie and the baby were able to go back home after a couple of days, but James would have to wait nearly two more weeks. While he had time away from work, he still had to go through an extra self-isolation before hugging his wife and kids and meeting his newest son.

“I know there’s a lot of people going through a lot worse than us. Like I said, this sacrifice is small compared to what people affected by the virus are having to go through. It really ended up being a beautiful experience."

HEARTBREAK, HEALING, and the power of faith

Not every family gets to have a happy ending. In fact, too many will experience loss on a level that seems unimaginable. KPLC's Drew Marine spoke to one Sulphur, La. family that suffered devastating loss twice in one day.

“My mom and dad always tried to prepare us for you know, if something like this was to happen. But you can never actually prepare yourself to lose a parent, much less two parents in the same day," said Ashley Briscoe.

Pastor Steven and Barbara Randolph were known lovingly by the community as Aunt and Uncle Steve. They both had pre-existing conditions.

“My mom suffered from diabetes and low blood pressure and my dad had maybe three strokes all together. He also had a heart attack and he also had high blood pressure," Briscoe said.

The symptoms for COVID-19 started with a cough. Both ended up being hospitalized. Briscoe was unable to be with her mom and dad in those final moments, but she does find comfort because they had each other.

“They put them bed by bed, side by side. and they let them hold hands. They grabbed each other’s hands. My mom actually passed first and then my dad passed shortly after, holding her hand. My mom always said she couldn’t imagine life without my dad and my dad always said he couldn’t imagine life without my mom. To me, that was God letting me know that he has them together so they don’t have to imagine life without each other.”

This virus is cruel. It doesn't care how much you love your family or your family loves you. It also doesn't care how old you are or how well you take care of yourself. For those who have survived, their shared experience has led them to the same message.

The hardest part of the disease for Shenetra Mcknight, 36, was being away from her baby daughter, Karter Marie.

“[Doctors said] But you’re going to have to be quarantined until we get the results. So I had to make arrangements for my baby girl, had to make arrangements for me, because I didn’t want to be around a lot of people, I didn’t want to be around anyone,” said Mcknight said during an interview with WAFB's Lester Duhe.

Mcknight knows she was one of the fortunate ones, but that didn't make it any easier.

“It was consistent pain. It wasn’t like where, oh I’m alright now, and then later. Those first three days that I had it, it was terrible. I did have a slight cough, but I didn’t really have the shortness of breath until that third night,” said Mcknight.

After she recovered, she had to be symptom free for 72 hours before she could hold Karter Marie again. For Mcknight, that day couldn't come soon enough.

Shenetra Mcknight and her daughter Karter Marie

"It was just the best feeling because she ran to me, she hugged me, and it was just an amazing feeling to be back with my baby girl,” said Mcknight.

A daughter's love and prayer is what led Jason Matthews to his recovery.

Matthews is only 37 years old. He’s a former Baton Rouge police officer, a veteran who served a tour in Iraq, and a husband and father who works out regularly and stays active.

“This was definitely different from the flu,” he told WAFB's Scottie Hunter. “The body aches were extreme. It was just amazing how bad it felt. My thighs, hips, calves were in horrible pain and I had just never experienced anything like that.”

When the pain grew too great, Matthews was sent to the hospital. He was admitted to the ICU.

“I FaceTimed my daughter and I asked her to pray for me and she said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it tonight,’ and I said, ‘Baby, I need it now because dad’s not doing well’ and she immediately prayed for me and started crying.”

For Matthews, it was her prayer that led him to recovery.

“Faith can conquer anything and through this experience, I will never be the same spiritually in a positive way and I just thank God for allowing me to get through this thing and to be able to share it with other people,” he said.

For Kalya Lasserre, she had faith in her own intuition that what she was experiencing was much more than what it seemed.

“It was like a full-blown flu. It was very, very miserable. So that night, my fever spiked really, really high," she described.

At first, she was told she had the flu. Thankfully, she pushed to be tested for COVID-19 because she was 8-weeks pregnant.

Kayla Lasserre

“We had the ultrasound. We checked everything. There’s a heartbeat. Everything looks normal. It’s measuring right on time,” she said. "I just wanted to get my story out and let pregnant women know it’s going to be okay if you do get it.”

Lakedra Fisher described her experience to WAFB's Kiran Chawla and said the diagnosis was terrifying.

“It’s really scary so when you hear you tested positive for Coronavirus, whether it’s mild or not, you just immediately get scared,” she said.

Like all of the survivors we've spoke to thus far, they all say this recovering from this virus is a miserable experience, but keep faith and you can make it to recovery.

“There is hope. You can recover. There are plenty of us out here who are recovering."

HOPE IS NEVER CANCELLED

It's easy to let the darkness overwhelm you. So many beautiful lives have been lost because of this virus. But during these dark days, it's important to seek out the bright spots.

When school let out and parents were tasked with becoming teachers, art became a popular way to keep little hands busy.

“We found all the art supplies around our house and just got to work,” Ellen DeCuir, a mother of twins, said to WAFB's Carmen Poe.

Ellen is a school counselor at Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School. She and her twins, Lillie Grace and Fletcher, decided it was time to lift a few spirits. So, they refurbished campaign signs and used them to spread some hope.

Comforting words during a time when we could all use them.

To keep this mission of hope and joy alive, we created the Reason to Smile Facebook group. We only ask one thing of our members - to find a reason to smile and then share that with everyone.

While you're staying home, keep yourself entertained and share those moments with us.

What's your reason to smile?

Created By
Samantha Morgan
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