KSL.com is compiling a list of Utahns lost to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, we hope to chronicle some of the stories of those who’ve died to better understand how our lives have changed because of COVID-19. If you have lost a friend or family member to COVID-19, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SALT LAKE CITY — While Tom Vidal and his four brothers worried about where their cleats were and what time soccer practice started, their mother worried about how she was going to go from being a stay-at-home mom to the sole support of her family in a country she’d adopted just seven years earlier.
Seven years after immigrating to the U.S. from Peru, Teresa De Jesus Vidal Rodriguez found herself the single mother of five young boys without job skills or even command of the language.
“For the first little while, my grandmother and aunt helped us while she took on hostess and waitress jobs,” said Tom Vidal of how his mother supported the family after his parents divorced and his father left the family without support. “They split up before my youngest brother was born. (He) doesn’t even know my dad.”
Teresa Vidal immediately went to work finding ways to pay the bills, but she quickly realized she’d have to go to school if she wanted her boys to have a shot at a normal childhood.
“She went to Salt Lake Community College to learn English, and they had a program where you could become an administrative assistant,” Vidal said. “It was the early 80s, and it gave you everything you needed to become an administrative assistant, a secretary, so she did that course.”
She eventually got a job at Newspaper Agency Corporation, where she “held so many different positions” it would be difficult to accurately list them all without her help. “At the same time she started that job, me and my brothers started playing sports. She kept working as a hostess to help pay for all our sports.”
She was such a hard worker. Whatever we needed, she worked her tail off to provide for us.
As adults, the Vidal boys understand the kind of gut-wrenching financial pressure she must have endured. As kids, however, all they knew was that if they wanted to play, their mom made it possible.
“She was such a hard worker,” Vidal said. “Whatever we needed, she worked her tail off to provide for us. When you’re a kid, you don’t realize how difficult that must have been. You never ask, ‘How did mom do that?’”
It wasn’t just a matter of finding the money for fees and equipment.
“My mom would always volunteer to be the team mom or to help in some way,” Vidal said. “And then she’d say, ‘Hey, my kids need a ride to practice today, and if you can take them, I’ll pick your kids up.’ She made sure we got where we needed to be. ... Our lives were nonstop sports.”
When asked what it was like growing up without a dad, Vidal doesn’t hesitate.
“My mom stepped up and filled that role,” he said. “With sports, she left it up to the coaches. But she was the loudest mom on the sideline, that’s for sure. She supported us 100 percent.”
Teresa Vidal, 69, was so tough and so resilient that when she told her sons she wasn’t feeling well in early June, none of them were very worried. Eventually, she decided to get tested for COVID-19.
“She tested positive, and then she went into the hospital on June 13,” he said. “I think we all thought, ‘OK, she has COVID, but she’s going to recover. Most people are recovering. She does have some pre-existing stuff, but she’s tough. She’s going to make it.’”
Three weeks later, she wasn’t improving. She developed a lung infection, and her situation just continued to deteriorate.
“She told us, ‘If things go bad, I don’t want to be on life support. I don’t want to be intubated,’” he said.
But then, when doctors were discussing what COVID-19 was doing to her lungs, Vidal said, “She must have gotten scared. She made the decision to be intubated. We’re not sure if it helped or made things worse. She was intubated for another three weeks, and in a medically induced coma.”
Then in early August, doctors met with Teresa’s boys and discussed with them the reality of her situation.
“He went over all her tests, and X-rays, and he let us know where she was at,” Vidal said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I don’t think your mom is going to make it if we extubate her.’”
The family made the agonizing decision to take her off the ventilator. They gathered around her, expecting to say goodbye, and then, a surprise.
“We were prepared for the worst, but hoping for a miracle,” he said. “And she surprised the doctor. She kept fighting.”
We were prepared for the worst, but hoping for a miracle. And she surprised the doctor. She kept fighting.
She was extubated on a Tuesday, and Thursday she was still fighting, so the doctor ordered another COVID-19 test hoping it would be negative, and that Teresa might be turning a corner to recovery.
“It just never let go of her,” Tom said. “The test came back positive on Monday. My mom hung on for another week.”
About two days after being removed from the ventilator, Teresa began communicating with nurses — blinking her eyes, nodding her head and moving her right foot.
“The Saturday before she passed, we took a Bluetooth speaker into her room — she loved dancing; that was her thing — and we played music for her,” he said. “She opened her eyes and looked at us. ... After seven weeks of hearing nothing but machines, we wanted her to enjoy something.”
For a few days, she was more alert, and it seemed she was getting stronger. He went to visit her on Thursday, Aug. 13, and he could tell she was exhausted.
“She just had this look,” he said. “You could see it in her eyes. She was physically and mentally exhausted. I told her, ‘As selfish as it is, we want you to get better. But you raised five good men. We’re going to be OK. If it’s your time, we understand. We’re going to be OK because you did a magnificent job.’”
Teresa looked at her Tommy, nodded her head and shook her foot.
The next morning, her youngest son came to visit, and he reported seeing a similar look in her eyes.
“By late morning, the nurse called us and said, ‘You need to get down here.’”
She died a few hours later, surrounded by her boys and their families.
“She surprised everybody,” Tom said. “The nurse she had the whole time told us that she went to New York when everything started happening. She said, ‘I’ve got to tell you. Your mom is the patient that has fought the hardest to beat this thing.’”
That didn’t surprise any of her sons. Not even a little.
To this day, the Vidals have no idea where their mother contracted the virus. After she was diagnosed, she was sent home to quarantine. It was 12 days into isolation that she told one of her sons that she couldn’t breathe. She needed one of them to take her to the emergency room. She’d never go home again.
Teresa Vidal is just one of the more than 400 Utahns to die from COVID-19 complications. As a Latina, she is also a member of second-largest group impacted by the virus. Outside of white Utahns, Hispanics/Latinos have the highest infection rate. While they make up just 14.2 percent of the population, they make up 35.1 percent of the state’s confirmed cases. Only Native Americans and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders have a higher mortality rate.
University of Utah assistant professor and researcher Daniel Mendoza looked into the impacts of the pandemic on the five lowest income zip codes. Those zip codes also happened to be where the highest numbers of minorities live.
For example, traffic in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, the traffic decreased by 50 percent. In the zip codes where the most people of color lived, the traffic only dropped 10-15 percent.
“There was a disparity in terms of who was forced to work, who was forced to travel, and who could stay home and stay safe,” Mendoza said.
When he examined why they were getting sick at higher rates — and suffering more severe consequences — he found a number of issues. They live in multi-generational houses, often with less space, and that impacts their ability to quarantine effectively. They also tend to work jobs that are considered essential and often they’re not jobs that allow for sick leave.
“They call them essential workers, but technically, they’re just a little bit more expendable,” he said. “Because people don’t care if they die. Unfortunately, for the economy, that’s what they are — expendable workers.”
The types of jobs they work expose them to more people, and unlike an office where co-workers know and care about each other and will do things like wear masks to protect each other, low income and minority workers are often trapped in jobs that put them in contact with dozens or hundreds of people they serve for only a few minutes a day, so there is less of a connection, less inclination to moderate their behavior for the safety of this stranger serving them.
He points out that testing is often a “luxury” for people living in the lowest economic areas.
“Many of them don’t have cars or they can’t afford to take two hours off work to go get tested,” he said. “And if they do go get tested, if they’re an hourly essential worker and they have to quarantine, will they still have a job? ... Being tested really was a luxury, and it’s not necessarily accessible to everyone.”
That’s changed somewhat, he said, thanks to the work of people like Sen. Luz Escamilla and Rep. Angela Romero, who spearheaded an effort to connect people from these zip codes with resources ranging from employment information and support to free testing sites that were set up close to their neighborhoods.
He’s still studying the pandemic-related issues, like are non-English speakers getting the same quality of information as English speakers. That’s just one thing that could impact everything from spread of the virus to surviving it.
For families like the Vidals, they are simply trying to find their way through grief and loss and live a life that honors the woman who taught them so much. Teresa Vidal never got the daughter she wanted, but she was blessed with seven granddaughters.
“She loved it,” Tom Vidal said with emphasis on the loved. “She spent so much time with them doing all the girly stuff grandmas do with granddaughters. She helped raise my older brother’s four daughters.”
Vidal said watching his mother struggle and triumph had a profound impact on the man he is today.
“No. 1, she’s been through a lot,” he said. “Here she was in the 70s and 80s speaking broken English in Utah, and that wasn’t a very easy thing to deal with. She dealt with a lot of discrimination, a lot of hardship.”
She dealt with jobs others wouldn’t do with a willingness and gratitude that saw her through any dark times.
“She never gave up,” he said. “She’d tell us, ‘No matter what, you just gotta keep moving forward.’ For myself, if I’ve hit a wall, I think about that and get up and keep going. Talk about unconditional love, she was like that with everyone. That’s what I learned from her — unconditional love, hard work and never giving up.”
But if there is one thing about Teresa Vidal that endures in her children and grandchildren, it’s her faith.
“She converted to (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) when she was 18,” he said. “She always had a desire to serve a mission. She’d always say, ‘One day, I’ll serve a mission, a senior mission.’ My mom never backed down from sharing her faith with people. Her whole life, since she joined the church, she shared that with everybody. So, in reality, she did serve a mission — her whole life.”
Her boys are, like her, resourceful and driven.
“I started working when I was 14, and the drive to work and succeed, that comes from my mom,” Vidal said. “I own two companies now, and I do work tirelessly. I learned that from my mom.”