NEW BRITAIN – Just weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic was not simply something Miriam Martinez read about in the news. She tested positive for the virus, leaving six young children at home.
“It was devastating,” said Martinez, 43. “I couldn’t get out of bed and I was in so much pain. But what was worse was knowing my children were all so scared and no one knew what was going to happen.
Martinez is a single mother with seven children, ranging from 7 to 20 years old. Her eldest no longer lives at home and she has been caring for her six little ones by herself since her husband passed away over three years ago.
A few days before she got tested, Martinez said she suffered severe migraines and felt something was wrong. She started to isolate herself in the basement to be on the safe side and eventually got herself to a doctor. Then she found out she tested positive for the virus and had eight out of the 10 symptoms. The reality became even more earthshattering when a relative who had slept over realized Martinez had stopped breathing during her sleep and her lungs made “clapping” noises.
“I found out I had pneumonia. COVID-19 basically consumed my whole lung,” Martinez said. “It just got worse and worse, to the point that I couldn’t be with my kids. I knew it would be dangerous because some of them have underlying conditions.”
Thankfully, her local church was able to take care of her children when Martinez was hospitalized. She was hooked up to two breathing machines for three weeks and did not know whether or not she was going to live.
“It was a really emotional day for all of us, when I had to leave my kids at the church. We all had masks on and cried. They lived at the church for three weeks,” said Martinez, who shared that as a recovered addict, nothing compared to what she went through with COVID-19. “The pain was excruciating and my body was in so much agony. It was much worse than anything I ever experienced.”
She fought against the sickness and won. But the challenges didn’t just end by being discharged from the hospital. The entire experience was not just traumatizing to Martinez, but to her children as well.
“They are really scared. Especially since they lost their dad not too long ago; they can’t handle more shocks,” she said. “Obviously I can’t go back to work right now but my kids are so scared to the point that they don’t want me to go back to work. But I’ll eventually have to.”
Martinez has always kept an optimistic outlook on life, a perspective that is needed when life throws curveballs. So when she found out Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters and Realized Solutions teamed up to donate a bike to her 7-year-old daughter, Daniella Silva, both mother and daughter were over the moon. The family has been involved with the mentoring organization for several years.
“She’s been asking for a bike since she learned how to ride with her older sibling’s bikes,” said Martinez, who was more than ready to surprise Daniella for her birthday. But because of the virus and being out of work, she didn’t know if it was going to happen.
“I can’t express how happy this makes her. It means so much to us and such a big support during tough times, especially for a little girl,” Martinez said.
Laura Beyer, director of marketing for Realized Solutions, said this was a way for them to help children directly. The Southington-based company markets information technology consulting services and employees have been building the bikes together as a team-building activity.
“The bike building tradition has been going on for five years and we love doing it,” Beyer said. “This is a way for us to give back and we love the idea of being able to give a child something that can be healthy for the mind, body and spirit.”
The company has donated 50 bikes and helmets to Nutmeg over the last five years.
For many children, the donated bikes would be the first time they receive something brand new and shiny, said Andy Flesichmann, president and CEO of Nutmeg. “There is something special about the bikes being completely new. We know they will be valued and appreciated. It’s always hard for me to express how excited and happy the kids are to get one of these new bikes.”
Nutmeg mentors have been encouraged to take their mentees out to do bike rides and nature hikes as the world slowly returns to a level of normalcy.
“Now that the weather is nicer, it’s good for the kids to venture out in a safe way,” he said. “What better way to encourage that than from a new bike?”
For Martinez, she hopes as the state continues to reopen people will continue to stay safe.
“My experience has really opened my eyes and time is short,” she said. “The pandemic is a really serious situation. The beach can wait. Going out to restaurants can wait. What can’t wait is for people to take this seriously and protect themselves and their families.”
Contact Catherine Shen at firstname.lastname@example.org