BELLE GLADE – A Belle Glade family lost six family members in just three weeks to COVID-19. Dealing with the loss is even more difficult because those deaths could have been prevented, said Lisa Wilson.
“If my family members were vaccinated, they would be with us today,” she said.
Her message to community members who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19: “Covid is real. People are dying. Vaccines save lives.”
Mrs. Wilson is an aide to Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. Her husband, Steve Wilson, is the mayor of Belle Glade. Since vaccines first became available, the Wilsons have been active in making sure Belle Glade residents have access to the shots, sharing information about the vaccines, and trying to combat the misinformation about the virus and the vaccines circulating on social media.
It started in January, when the emergency use of the vaccine was approved, she explained. At first, the challenge was to provide access to vaccination for the people in the Glades. “I had been going door-to-door, pretty much trying to work with the health department and Lakeside Medical Center to set up pods for people to come and take vaccinations,” she explained.
The mayor volunteered to be the first to be vaccinated at Lakeside Medical Center. It was broadcast live on Facebook.
“We were reaching out to different groups, to churches, to encourage people to get vaccinated. I was helping arrange mobile units to come out to make the vaccine available,” she continued.
Mrs. Wilson found opposition to vaccinations not just in the community but also in her own family.
She said the false information on social media caused many people to be skeptical of the vaccines. “They thought there was a rush with the vaccine and they were not comfortable with taking it.” She continued to push for vaccination, answering questions and sharing the correct information.
Her grandmother’s 93-year-old brother received his first vaccination shot, and a few days later got sick with COVID-19, she explained. Some family members blamed the vaccine instead of the virus. She said her great uncle was hospitalized and recovered.
In August, Mrs. Wilson’s 48-year-old uncle, who had not been vaccinated, was hospitalized with COVID-19. He did not survive.
Other unvaccinated family members also came down with the virus, including four cousins and her 89-year-old grandmother. All succumbed to the virus. The youngest to die was 44 years old.
“My grandmother had raised me from birth,” said Mrs. Wilson. “I had been with her all my life.” She said she had tried to convince her grandmother to be vaccinated, but she didn’t want to push too hard. “I didn’t want to scare her any more than she already was.”
Mrs. Wilson said her grandmother, was “full of life and young at heart. She had never been sick. She had never stayed overnight in a hospital before.” The family matriarch to 28 grandchildren, 58 great-grandchildren and 19 great-great-grandchildren was active and independent. “She enjoyed her grandchildren. They were the love of her life.”
Two weeks after being hospitalized, Lillie Mae Dukes Moreland passed away. Mrs. Wilson said it was even harder to lose her because the family could not be at her bedside to say good-bye. The last time they spoke face-to-face was in the emergency room the day her grandmother was admitted to the hospital. At the time, the doctors said the prognosis was not good.
While her grandmother was hospitalized, they spoke on Facetime. “It’s a horrible thing to see your loved ones struggling to breathe, dying alone with no loved ones there,” said Mrs. Wilson.
She said her family members regretted their choice to forgo the vaccinations. On Facetime chats, one cousin told her, “I wish I would have listened. I want to get vaccinated now.”
The grief has been overwhelming, she said. They have not had time to grieve one family member and another one dies. “We spend nights on Facetime,” she said. “We share stories. We get reports on each individual family member, how they are.
“I have no words for it,” she said.
Two funerals are planned for Saturday.
Mrs. Wilson said she has stopped taking “no” for an answer from her family members about vaccinations. “It’s just the bottom line: They’ve gotta do it.
“Within my own family, they know I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer. I’m calling them every day: ‘Let me know if you need a ride ... if I can schedule an appointment.
“I really felt like could I have done more to save the ones who are no longer with us,” she continued. “I keep beating myself up.
“I tried. I really, really tried,” she said.
She said many family members who were hesitant about vaccination have changed their minds and gotten the vaccine. “Just to ease my mind, I ask them to send me proof,” she added.
“I have to keep pushing to get the message out. Hopefully people will start listening.
“I’m praying and hoping we can convince more people to be vaccinated. If more people are vaccinated, we can beat covid,” she said.
Too many people are dying, she said. Mrs. Wilson said the funeral home director told her covid is burning through the Glades communities and about 85% of the funerals are now for COVID-19 victims.
On Saturday, Sept. 25, the City of Belle Glade will host a city-wide vaccination event from noon to 6 p.m. at the Belle Glade Loading Ramp. Belle Glade residents who receive the vaccinations will also receive $100 gift cards. The free event will include a Gospel Fest and food. Proof of residency is required.
Mrs. Wilson said although her family has two funerals on Saturday, she will be at the event when she can. “I am praying and hoping that it will make a difference.
“I am hoping to get the message out about what my family has endured. I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what we have,” she said.
“I will continue to spread the message,” she added. “After the funerals on Saturday, I am going to go to the Loading Ramp to see if I can help push and get more people vaccinated."
She wants the message to spread, “all around the lake, all over the country and all over the world.”
COVID-19 deaths are preventable, she said. The vaccine is available.
“If you are going to the hospital, if you’re unvaccinated, and you’re having trouble breathing, the chances of coming out of the hospital are very slim,” she said. “My family members went into the hospital having breathing problems and they never came out.
“If people get vaccinated we can get through this and try to get some normalcy back.”