COVID descended on Belle Villafuerte, RN’s family and claimed her husband

Belle and Al were married 44 years.  They met at a New Year’s Eve party.     

By Cristina DC Pastor

It happened in the home of a Filipino American nurse.

A registered nurse, her husband, and son all tested positive for the Coronavirus. Belle Villafuerte, RN and son Drew survived, but Al, a respiratory therapist and patriarch of this Rockland County family, passed away in May.

It was quite sudden, by Belle’s lucid recollection. On March 15, “Al came home from work not feeling well and in fact already told his boss that he would not be able to go back to work the next day. I took his temperature, and he had a fever.”

Early Wednesday of March 18, Al tested “Positive for the Coronavirus.” That same evening, Belle started to feel shooting pains all over her body. Soon, she was manifesting the classic symptoms of COVID-19:  shortness of breath, no taste, no smell and overall physical weakness just like Al.  On March 20, her physician sent Belle to get tested and started her on antibiotics. Three days later, the results came back: “Positive for the Coronavirus.”

Belle was incredulous. Al, she said, was a picture of health and had no pre-existing conditions. “He played two hours of tennis practically every day, ate predominantly fish and air-fried chicken, no oil frying except on occasion.”

She, on the other hand, was, at the time, suffering from Vertigo, complicated by Labyrinthitis. Not exactly comorbidities that encouraged the Coronavirus to thrive. But she was also being examined for a small lump in her maternal breast. All tests came back negative and there was no risk for any cancerous growth. It was COVID that got to her.

Belle (center), with fellow nurses, provided COVID antibody testing in Bergen County. They were welcomed by Bergenfield officials led by Mayor Arvin Amatorio (3rd from right), also a Filipino American.     

“For 14 days I took the maximum allowed dosage per day of Tylenol in five divided doses,” she described her treatment. “I had one bout of 99.2 temp when I didn’t take Tylenol and my temperature went up immediately and shooting pains all over my body. Al even said when he was still at home that he heard me moaning in the middle of the night from the pain.”

Belle stayed in the guest room which she disinfected thoroughly. Al took the master’s bedroom, and their son Drew, who works as a kitchen manager at a burger joint, stayed in his room – their home divided into three healing zones. A daughter who is a Social Worker at a Long-Term Care/Sub-Acute facility, did not get the infection although she was exposed daily to a high percentage of COVID patients.

“Almost on a daily basis, I was tempted to call 911 because of the severe shortness of breath with my SPO2 (oxygen saturation level) dropping in the mid to high 80s. I tolerated the hardship as I did not want to be intubated in the ER, as I know that’s what they would have done with the symptoms I was exhibiting. I did not want my kids, although adults, to have two parents in the ICU, and not being able to visit them,” she recalled. “I just remembered praying and asking the Lord to give me the strength to persevere and survive.”

Belle was president of the Philippine Nurses Association of New Jersey from 2014 to 2016.       
Her prayer is to be able to stay around long enough to take care of grandchildren.

On May 9th, Al died while Belle and Drew were still in recovery.

Today after almost eight months, Belle could look back with a tinge of levity how she wished 2020 never happened.

Born in Makati, Metro Manila, Belle came to the U.S. when she was 14 years old. She and Al met at a New Year’s Eve party her parents hosted in 1972. Both their parents were friends. Four years later, the two were married in the Bronx. The year 2020 would have been their 44th wedding anniversary. Belle is a leader in the close-knit FilAm nursing community and was the president of the Philippine Nurses Association of New Jersey from 2014 to 2016.

“Today, eight months after my first symptoms started, I am still being followed up every three months as some of my lab work, especially my LFTs (Liver function tests) are elevated. I am, however, able to be more active and getting back to my love of cooking and dancing.” Her prayer is to be able to stay around long enough to take care of grandchildren.

She likes to joke with close friends that because of COVID, she was able to shed some pounds. “The one positive that came out from this ordeal.”

© The FilAm 2020

Leave a Reply