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Pandemic hits home for Weirton family

CONCERNS — Weirton resident Abigail Zuros said 65-year-old her father, Christopher Gardner,a Baptist minister in Brookley, is battling COVID-19 and is so weak he can “barley talk (and) can’t hold a phone coversation.” Rev. Gardner is shown here with his grandson, Paulie. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — Brooklyn native Abigail Zuros admits she gets frustrated when she hears people say COVID-19 only strikes the elderly or those with underlying health conditions, or that the flu is much more deadly.

“When you have a family member suffering from it, that comes off as very callous,” said Zuros, now a Weirton resident and mother of four. “When people say it’s ‘only the elderly’ or ‘only people with underlying health conditions,’ remember that ‘only’ is someone else’s everything. It’s not an ‘only’ to them.”

Zuros’ father, Christopher Gardner, a 65-year-old Baptist minister, is one of the more than 52,000 New Yorkers who’ve already contracted the virus. Nationwide, more than 123,000 people have been stricken and more than 2,300 have died, including an infant who died Saturday in Chicago.

Four hundred miles and a seven-hour drive away, Abigail Zuros feels helpless.

“He can barely talk, he can’t hold a phone conversation with me,” she said. “They told him he wasn’t sick enough (to be in the hospital), they can only take the critically ill. So they’re sending home people who have fevers, people who have pneumonia as well and also underlying conditions. They say they don’t have the room, they don’t want to not have room for the very critically ill.”

She said her father had been experiencing flu-like symptoms for several weeks, though doctors initially hoped it might only be bronchitis. It wasn’t until March 17 that Gardner was tested and March 20 that his results came back positive.

“It was sort of a confirmation of my worst fears,” she said. “I had a growing suspicion he had it, he’d been sick so long and had this worsening cough that was wearing him down — he could do less and less because of it. And when he found out people he knows had it as well, he had to say he’d see a doctor and get tested, all the while knowing this possible diagnosis was coming.”

Her husband, Paul Zuros, said his father-in-law initially complained of cold and flu-like symptoms, “but then the cough set in and that got really bad, the breathing part got really bad.”

Experts say it’s that severe shortness of breath that distinguishes COVID-19 from the flu, commonly appearing prior to the onset of pneumonia. Sick as her father is, Abigail Zuros said doctors refused to hospitalize him.

“He’s always been a very healthy man for his age,” Abigail Zuros said. “He still worked, he’d go to the gym, he ran 5Ks. He’s 65 and has no underlying conditions. My mom told us for him to eat a bowl of soup, he’s had to stop and rest three or four times, he had to lay down.”

New Yorkers she knows who’ve contracted it “run the gamut from being pretty sick but recovered, it ran its course, to being in the hospital on life-sustaining support,” Abigail Zuros said. “My dad is in the middle.”

She said her father is in isolation in his basement and will stay there until he’s symptom-free. Her mother and cousin — both currently symptom-free — are quarantined on the upper level for a few more days.

“My parents are very fortunate, they have their own house,” she said. “(The authorities) tell people to keep the (infected) person isolated in their own bedroom with their own bathroom, but if you rent in New York City you know that doesn’t exist — most people in NYC who rent live in very close quarters, so it’s going to be difficult for them to not (infect loved ones).”

She said she knows “four or five people” she’d known growing up in New York who’ve contracted the virus, “and others with symptoms who can’t say definitively whether they’ve been exposed to it or not so they’re not being given the test. They seem to be only giving people the test if they have a lot of symptoms and known exposure to it.”

She said the doctor did tell her father the problem with COVID-19 is that if it doesn’t run its course, “it’s very long lasting and wears people down.”

“But there’s a lot of people praying for him,” she adds. “He has a very wide network of support, a lot of people praying for him and willing to help. His church (Metropolitan Baptist Church, Brooklyn) has been really supportive, we can’t say enough about them. Other people in the church have stepped up and taken on the mantle since he’s not able to. They’ve been wonderful to him and my mom.”

“My parents are people of great faith,” she said. “I’m always in awe of their faith, even in the hardest of times. Seeing him go through this has been very hard, but their faith never wavered. Even in the midst of this they feel God is working in their lives and it’s made their faith stronger. God is with them, we believe that. Faith has always been the central element to their life — if anything, it’s made their faith even stronger.”

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