‘I’m Alive’: Tale Of a Haitian Father Who Recovered From COVID-19

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By Ralph ‘Onz’ Chery

Dorcelis Valestine [second to the right] poses for a picture with his family for his 50th birthday. Dorcelis Valestine’s Facebook Images

Sondy Valestine, 28, felt an inexplicable amount of strength in him as he drove to Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. The Haiti native escaped from one of the biggest fears of his life, the fear of losing one of his parents. His 50-year-old father, Dorcelis Valestine, was in the hospital for six days, battling COVID-19.

Throughout that time, Sondy wept at night, and about every unexpected noise he heard sounded like people weeping at a funeral. The pain was done, at last. His dad was recovering from COVID-19 and was being sent home.

“We thought he got sick from the rain,” Sondy said. And every time we asked him if he was okay, he said he was okay. He didn’t have a fever. There’s a lot of the symptoms he didn’t have. He just couldn’t breathe well; we didn’t think it would’ve gotten this bad.”

The Valestine family is one of the many families who watched one of its members beat his way out of the coronavirus. There were tears, fears, but also togetherness and bravery. However, the most highlighted part of the Valestine family’s story with COVID-19 is their faith in God.

Dorcelis was never one to get sick easily. He doesn’t have a history of major health issues. Nevertheless, approximately three weeks after his 50th birthday, he started feeling the symptoms of the virus. He was unusually getting out of breath when he was going up the stairs. He didn’t think it was the virus. Neither did his family.

A couple of days later, it was much harder for Dorcelis to breathe, which prevented him from sleeping well at night and he caught a fever. That’s when he and his family thought it was the virus. However, Dorcelis’s initial thought wasn’t to go to the hospital.

Dorcelis reluctantly agreed to allow his 22-year-old daughter, Sandrine, to take him to an urgent care. As his breathing was getting worse and worse, Dorcelis, also realized that he could’ve lost his life if he had stayed home.

“If Sandrine didn’t take me to the hospital, I could’ve died,” the 50-year-old told The Haitian Times recently and you could still hear him exhale as he talked then. “I wasn’t feeling normal at all [..] I don’t like going to the hospital. But I had no choice, so I went.”

Workers at Brooklyn Hospital Center wear protective gear during the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Dorcelis doesn’t fall among the people who are at major risk of dying if they catch the virus. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who are at high risk of dying are “people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions” and adults over 65.

It truly hit Sondy and Sandrine how sick their father was when he stayed at the hospital. For Sondy, particularly, he thought COVID-19 was a “myth” at first and was leaving home—until his father caught it.

The first few days Dorcelis was at the hospital were the toughest ones for his family.

“My little sister [Taisha, 8] cried,” Sandrine said. “She cried a lot. My brother was very emotional. My mother was emotional. I was worried too, I cried a little. But I tried to hide it because I felt like if I showed too much emotions my mother and my little sister were going to worry more. I didn’t want them to think it was something bigger than it was. I just felt like I had to look strong, be strong for them.”

Sondy showed the most emotions.

“I think I was the weakest one,” he said. “Sandrine was strong. She played a huge role that I couldn’t play because I was weak. I fell. But her, she was strong enough to hold the family up when I fell.

“I can’t really deal with those situations. I’m not weak but when things get this bad, I get stressed out. I cried a lot as a guy. One of my close friends told me I’m very weak. I said it’s not that I’m weak. It’s because I saw a lot of people not make it, I saw a lot of Rest In Peace on Facebook. That’s what made me weak.”

Throughout the heartache, the Valestine family sought help from God. Sondy highlighted that his mother, Sonie Charles, had this immovable faith that her husband would return home. Taisha read psalms at night. Even for Sondy, himself, who as mentioned was the saddest one, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

“You know all those statistics that say how many people died, I always said that my dad wouldn’t be one of them because I pray to God,” he said.

To add to the pain of Dorcelis being at the hospital, there was also a fear that one of them caught the virus from him because they were very close to him. Sondy even cut his hair.

As his family worried about him and each other at home, Dorcelis wasn’t sleeping at the hospital because of fear of getting worse. He didn’t fall asleep once during his five nights at the hospital. The only way he was communicating with his family was through text messages because he couldn’t talk properly as he was wearing the oxygen mask of a ventilator.

On his fifth day hospitalized, Dorcelis’s doctor told him he was recovering and prayed with him. Dorcelis was sent home the following day, Apr. 10, to practice self-isolation. There was an immeasurable amount of joy between Dorcelis and his son when he came to pick him up.

“I was really happy,” Dorcelis said. “I told Sondy ‘I’m alive [laughed], I didn’t die.’ I thank God. I went in the hospital as a dead man, but God took me out.”

Onz Chery

Originally from Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Ralph ‘Onz’ Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, Cosmopolitan Soccer League, and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz became one of ESNY’s sports journalists then joined Haitian Times.

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