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COVID-19 patient Rodney Baker in this undated photograph.

In a wobbly and brittle tone, 36-year-old COVID-19 patient Rodney Baker spoke to Guardian Media via his cell phone. Warded at the Couva Hospital and Multi-Training Facility, he is fearful that he might not make it and his toddler boys, who already lost their mother to the virus last Sunday, will become parentless.

“You never know what could happen. I am in here (hospital) but I’m scared. I don’t want to think negative but I get scared a lot that I won’t see my children,” he bemoaned.

The mental anguish seems to be even more than the physical pain for Baker, the father of a one and a three-year-old. He said his fear of dying intensified when a fellow patient at the Couva Hospital, where he has been warded for nearly two weeks battling the virus, passed away last week.

An emotional Baker said he calls his children every day but the boys do not know that their mother has died, nor do they have a clue that their father is also in a labour to live.

Baker said he does not know how he contracted the virus, as he insisted his family was very strict in following all COVID-19 protocols.

“The only place I could think of is my job because as a sales rep, yuh does have to do plenty interacting and mingling,” he speculated.

All Baker recalled was that his wife and two young children quarantined along with him when he came down with a fever and flu-like symptoms two weeks ago and had to stay home from his job.

But when his condition began to worsen and the sales representative was fighting to breathe, he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.

“I went to the hospital before her (wife) and I get tested before her,” he said.

As he suspected, Baker’s test read positive. His wife and two children were also subsequently tested. The results later revealed the children did not contract the virus and they were sent to stay with Baker’s sister.

But the cards did not shuffle the same favourable deck for their mother. Sadly, the Port-of-Spain General Hospital medical orderly died on May 2 still awaiting her COVID status.

“She was quarantined at home but she could not have made it at home because the fever was too strong,” he said in a distressed tone.

Tearfully admitting he may need counselling to deal with the surreal situation, he said, “I never had a thought…I never thought it would have reached to that.”

Baker admitted, however, that his wife, 44, had developed gestational diabetes during her pregnancies that remained with her.

Baker is also in some physical pain, as parts of his lower extremity—ankles and feet — are severely swollen, a problem the doctors have advised developed as a result of bed confinement. But he said the pain does not twin that of the crippling heartache he now minds over the loss of his wife and mother of his children.

As unwell as he feels, Baker wants to give his wife her last rights. He is praying the last test he has to do will be negative, so he can see the love of his life one more time.

“Right now I am still here trying to see how best I can come out to organise funeral arrangements,” he said.

Though the fear and the grief are great, he said he was currently relying on three things for strength— God, his children and his mother.

Activists: Younger demographic, cause for concern

Rodney Baker’s fear of his children suddenly becoming parentless is a genuine concern activists say, especially now when T&T health officials have announced the virus is now affecting people in younger age brackets while the severity of the illness has increased, also causing the recovery time to be longer.

At last Friday’s press conference by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to update the country on the increasing COVID-19 cases and announce additional measures to curtail the spread, Thoracic Medical Director at the Caura Hospital, Dr Michelle Trotman, revealed that the virus was now claiming the lives of a younger demographic—those in their 30s and 40s.

“We are now seeing a picture of a patient that is different in the peak than we experienced before and that patient is somebody who most of us would know. It’s a 30-year-old, a 35-year-old, a 40-year-old who is coming in very ill,” Trotman noted.

Last Friday, Jennifer Mahadeo, a 41-year-old page planner at a daily newspaper, died from the virus. Just three days ago, Guardian Media reported on the death of 38-year-old Nigel Ramkalawan and news reaching our newsroom yesterday, revealed 33-year-old Dr Shival Sieunarine passed away from COVID-19 at the Intensive Care Unit at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.

Commenting on the situation, social worker and family counsellor Alsoona Boswell-Jackson said, “I look on with bated breath because I believe that if we continue down the road that we are going and continue to ignore the restrictions being set by the Government to curb the rising numbers of COVID cases, coupled with the decreasing availability of bed space, that we can mirror what is happening in India with children losing their parents to the virus.”

Last Thursday, Reuters reported that child rights activist groups were now rescuing children in India who have suddenly become orphans having lost their parents or caregivers to the virus, which has ravaged the South-Asian Republic.

India has been reporting an infection rate of 3.57 million, with daily new infections of up to 400,000.

The situation is so grim the groups have even been asking for breastfeeding or breast milk donors for babies whose parents have fallen victim to COVID-19.

But while Medical Consultant at The Breastfeeding Association of T&T (TBATT), Dr David Bratt, agrees there is cause for concern with T&T’s increased cases and younger people becoming infected, he noted children could also become ‘orphaned’ in the instances where a grandparent was the sole caretaker of the child.

Regarding the need for breast milk donations should it come to that, he assured TBATT would be ready.

“The Breastfeeding Association of T&T would be able to assist the caretakers of any newborn, whose parents have died from COVID, or any other disaster, with human milk.”

He added, “At the same time, I think we would have a better informal and formal social set up here than in certain parts of India.”

Meanwhile, the founder and director of Mamatoto Resource and Birth Centre, Debrah Lewis, believes with the restrictions in place and if they are well heeded, T&T should not get to the same place as India.

She said, “I also believe that if we did get there, the children left behind would definitely be cared for, either by family members, friends or if necessary, through private or government contributions.”