Equipped with only a surgical mask on the front lines, Filipina nurse dies at Hollywood area hospital

For the past 16 years, Celia Lardizabal Marcos was a telemetry charge nurse at a Hollywood area hospital — the same hospital where she died of complications related to the novel coronavirus on Friday, April 17.

Celia Marcos, 63, was a telemetry charge nurse in Los Angeles. | Contributed photo

Two days before her death, the 61-year-old Filipina nurse was admitted to CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, where she had worked since 2004.

Marcos wrote in a family group chat that on April 3, she was one of three nurses who responded after a patient, suspected to have COVID-19, went into cardiac arrest.

Though she worked on a floor that was considered free of positive cases, the particular patient was an “overflow,” according to a representative from the SEIU 121RN, which advocates for nurses at the hospital.

Marcos was only provided a surgical mask when she intubated the patient and stayed behind in the room, said her niece Andrea Gian Lardizabal, who is also a registered nurse back in the Philippines.

“After responding to the patient, she took a bath and even used sanitizer for her hair as her protection before going home,” Lardizabal told the Asian Journal in an email. “She [was] also doing steam inhalation twice a day as another preventive measure.”

Marcos reportedly started feeling sick three days after treating the patient but did not tell her eldest son Donald Jay Marcos until April 11 when he initiated a video call on Facebook Messenger to check on her.

The symptoms Marcos relayed included a headache, body aches and difficulty breathing.

Marcos with eldest son Donald, who lives in Dubai | Contributed photo

Donald, who lives in Dubai, urged her to get a check-up but she put it off, he said. He did not hear from her until April 15 when the two spoke again on a video call.

Speaking from a hospital bed, Marcos was hooked up to a ventilator to help her breathe after she developed pneumonia, a complication associated with COVID-19.

“I told her, ‘Mama, be strong, you can do it. When you get out of the hospital, you will retire immediately.’ She replied to me, ‘Yes.’ She couldn’t talk that much [because] she couldn’t breathe…and she was even crying too,” Donald, 41, told the Asian Journal.

That was the last time he spoke to his mother.

On the morning of April 17, her younger son John, who lives in the Bay Area, said he texted her to see how she was doing and received a short reply. Around 9 p.m., her fiancé Antonio Velasco messaged Donald that her blood-oxygen levels dropped and she went into cardiac arrest. Two hours later, another message came in that she died.

Marcos’s positive result for COVID-19 came the day after her death, Donald said. Her one underlying medical condition was hypertension, considered a high risk factor for severe illness.

The Pinay front-liner was the first fatality for the SEIU 121RN, which has 9,000 registered nurse members in Southern California.

“She was on the front lines in the fight against this horrible pandemic, and it stole her from us,” the organization said in a statement.

Despite the report that Marcos did not have adequate personal protective equipment, a representative from the hospital told the Asian Journal that it provides gear for its staff in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Pinay nurse’s death is now among two dozen Filipino health care workers around the United States who have lost their lives in the fight against COVID-19, based on a tally by the Asian Journal as of this writing.

The Marcos brothers remember their mother for her generosity and how she put the well-being of others first.

Marcos with younger son, John | Contributed photo

“Our family in the Philippines counted on her a lot. She was the one they would go to if they needed something,” John told the Asian Journal. “Without hesitation, she would always be the one to help out right away.”

She loved traveling to different destinations, but prioritized using vacation time to visit her home country, which she left in 2001 for Los Angeles.

Whenever she returned, she showered family members with gifts and took delight in planning weekend outings for the whole group, Donald said.

“She always thought of how her family could be happy,” said Donald, who last saw his mother in person during a trip back home in July.

Marcos, who would have celebrated her birthday this May, has been cremated two weeks after her passing. Once travel restrictions are lifted, her sons plan to honor her wishes and to hold a memorial service in her hometown of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur in the Philippines. She will be buried alongside her parents.

John set up a GoFundMe page for his late mother with a goal of $10,000 to help with costs associated with her forthcoming burial.

He pleaded with the public to continue following stay-at-home orders and to think of front-line workers like his mother.

“It’s tough staying home right now but it’s a minimal sacrifice,” John said. “At the end of the day, I’d rather know that we’re safe at home rather than risking our lives on the front lines just like my mom did.”


Editor’s note: The Asian Journal is working to document those of Filipino descent who have lost their lives because of the coronavirus in the United States. If you know of someone or would like to offer a remembrance of someone who has died of COVID-19, please tell us about them by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “Remembering Lives Lost.”

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is an award-winning editor and communications strategist based in Los Angeles with experience in content, strategy and branding for media ecosystems, inclusive fintech startups, small businesses and direct-to-consumer products.

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