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Sisters Hema, left, and Selina Ragoo.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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‘I rather die and let my sister live’.

Hema Ragoo sacrificed her life for her sister Selina, nursing her back to health after Selina got infected with the COVID-19 virus five weeks ago.

Determined not to let her sister die, Hema sat at Selina’s bedside praying fervently, feeding her sips of water, cooling off her high fever and rubbing her back as she coughed up mucus and blood.

But doctors believe it was this sacrifice that cost Hema her life.

After being hospitalised for two weeks, Hema, 36, of Princes Town, died at the Augustus Long Hospital in Point-a-Pierre on Thursday.

Doctors tried valiantly to keep her alive.

They inserted a tube in her throat to help with oxygen but although she was given Intensive Care treatment, she succumbed to organ failure.

Guardian Media first encountered Hema on May 10, when she frantically called the newsroom saying they could not get an ambulance to take Selina to the hospital after she fell ill with the disease.

Almost every day afterwards, she would provide updates on her family, several of whom had tested positive for COVID.

On May 11, Hema wrote, “She (Selina) is feeling a little better. I get an oxygen tank. My aunty had one. I give her tea, plus she eat a slice of bread.”

She sent that message with a happy face icon.

A day later, she wrote, “She not progressing good so I took her to Princes Town Hospital. The doctor was really nice to us.”

On nights when Selina gasped for breath, Hema monitored her oxygen levels, staying up all night listening to her sister breathing while she slept.

She would leave voice notes expressing thanks for the scriptures and words of comfort sent to her. Hema later confessed that she was feeling unwell, having come down with sore throat, body pains and later a slight fever.

“I don’t want to tell anyone to worry them,” she told this reporter.

Through it all, she continued caring for her family, making sure that everyone ate and that all surfaces in the household were sanitised and clean. By then, six members of the family had tested positive.

On May 17, Hema provided good news.

“My sister is feeling a lot better. A person from the Ministry of Health dropped a monitor to check oxygen. Just mommy was seeing a little difficulty in breathing but we are feeling a lot better now.”

But as Selina got better, Hema got worse.

On May 19, she left her final voice note. In between gasps, she muttered, “I’m not feeling good. Oxygen only dropping. Just now my brother going to call the ambulance for me and my mother still in the hospital. She tested positive.”

That was the last time Guardian Media had contact with her.

Selina – “I loved Hema”

Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, Selina said it was Hema’s comfort and love that helped her during her illness. Selina said she got COVID after going to a bank in Princes Town. She later found out that two bank workers had tested positive in early May.

“I remember putting my wallet on the counter and I may have touched my mask,” Selina cried, adding, “It is because of me my sister died.”

During the days when she battled the virus, Selina said it was Hema’s love that saw her through.

“Hema bring food and water. If I had pain she coming to see. If I vomiting in the night, she sat down right there by the door. She carry me to the hospital and sit down there whole night in the trunk and wait until the next morning for me. When I saw her, she was crying and she eyes swell up. She say she rather die than me.”

Selina said she often warned Hema not to stay too long in the COVID-infected room.

“I say Hema, wear your gloves. I tell her when you drop the food go back out. I don’t want you to get this. It not nice and she experienced this worse than me,” Selina sobbed.

On May 21, a kind doctor at the San Fernando General Hospital allowed Hema to video call her family for the last time.

“She tell her mother that she loves her. She tell everybody home here that she loves us and that was the last we ever see her,” Selina said.

Their mother Chan, who was hospitalised for several days at the Point Fortin Hospital, was too distraught to speak on the death. Hema had been the one who took up responsibilities in the home, cooking, washing, cleaning and driving Chan out if she needed to buy things for the house.

Uncle Manohar Maharaj said the family was close-knit and Chan ensured that all five siblings grew up with love.

“This is heartbreaking to lose Hema. Right now, we are trying to make arrangements for her funeral but it is costing $800 per night to keep her at the funeral home and we are being told that the next space available for cremation is in a month,” Maharaj said.

He described Hema as a light in the family.

“She was the most kind-hearted and warm person you will ever meet. Truly self-sacrificing. She was the one who had to care for everyone who became sick,” Manohar said.

The family is warning the public to take COVID seriously.

“Don’t touch your face and sanitise. This is everywhere. You do not want to experience this. Please listen to the advice and stay home. When you lose a loved one, you never get to see them again. Please remember this,” Maharaj said.

Hema worked in an ice cream parlour in Princes Town but lost her job after the pandemic hit. She had no children but was very close to her nieces and nephews.