A Tinley Park mom says her daughter died just three days after the otherwise healthy teen was hospitalized with coronavirus just before Christmas.
Sarah Simental, a Lincoln-Way East senior who just turned 18 last month, first reported a minor headache on Dec. 16, her mother Deborah Simental said. The next day, she began feeling congested and had a sore throat.
"My immediate thought was these are symptoms of COVID," Deborah Simental said.
Outside of her home, Simental had only seen her boyfriend prior to experiencing symptoms, her mother said.
On Friday, her symptoms continued as she developed a fever, chills and vomiting.
Saturday morning, her mother took her to get a coronavirus test and that evening her results came back positive.
Early Wednesday morning, Simental went to Silver Cross Hospital after she started experiencing pain in her left shoulder. While there, her oxygen levels dropped and Simental was placed on a ventilator and taken to the intensive care unit.
Because of coronavirus protocols, Deborah Simental was not able to see her daughter while she was hospitalized, but she did have a phone conversation with her as she was moved to the ICU.
"I said, 'It is going to be okay' and she knew she was going to miss Christmas - she loved Christmas," Deborah Simental said. "The last words she said to me is, 'Mom, it is going to be okay.'"
On Christmas Eve, Simental said she was finally able to visit her daughter, but at that point, the teen was already sedated.
"I can only hope that she was able to hear me as I was talking to her," Deborah Simental said.
By Christmas day, the 18-year-old was being airlifted to University of Chicago Medical Center and on Dec. 26, she passed away.
"It was that quick," Deborah Simental said. "No underlying conditions at all. She was a very healthy, 18-year-old young lady. We were proactive with health, we had all gotten flu shots and knew the importance because I stressed it all the time when it comes to social distancing and making sure we had masks."
According to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office, Simental died of acute hypoxic respiratory failure due to coronavirus.
"It took her. It took her - a perfectly healthy 18-year-old girl," Deborah Simental said. "I still cannot wrap my head around it."
The family said it remains unclear how Simental contracted the virus.
The teen's mother, boyfriend and her boyfriend's father all tested negative following her diagnosis.
"I truly have no idea how she contracted it," Deborah Simental said.
Simental's family said they hope sharing her story will help others recognize the seriousness of the pandemic.
"There are people out there that don’t take it seriously. Her dad and I are here to tell you - that it is real," Deborah Simental said. "There will be more holidays, birthdays, all these events we are not able to do. You will have them again. This took my daughter and we are not going to be able to have those again."
A visitation for Simental is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Orland Park, but due to coronavirus restrictions, only 10 people are allowed at a time and masks and social distancing are required. The family also plans to have a private funeral.
Simental is being remembered as free-spirited, kind and an animal lover who volunteered at local animal shelters. Her obituary reads that she was "loved by her furry best friend Bailey."
In lieu of flowers, her family asks that donations be made to P.A.W.S of Tinley Park at pawstinleypark.org/donate.
"Please, wear a mask, social distance. Don’t worry about getting together for these events, just wait until this is under control ," Deborah Simental said. "You are not in the position that her father and I are in right now. Nobody should have to bury their child. No parent should have to watch their child go through what my daughter went through. It's been a nightmare."