Gwen Thomas, 74

"[I find] strength in family, calling family, and my godchild.”

After watching her mother “give up” in her later years, Gwen Thomas, 74, knew that she would not let COVID-19 get the best of her.

An active, community-minded go-getter who works primarily in and around Visitacion Valley, San Francisco, with the Felton Institute, Gwen’s life slowed down in early June.

“I never thought I’d get it,” she says over the phone, “I caught it and I don’t know where I got it from.” Gwen lives in a second-floor apartment in the city next to neighbors who, by all accounts, were also sheltering in place. “I wasn’t doing too much of anything,” she says, “I was just relaxing where I live and didn’t visit too many people. All my community had to be quarantined, and nobody else in my family got it.”

She’ll never forget the day when she received news she was positive for COVID-19. “I was at home when I got the call that I had it. They called an ambulance and they took me to the hospital.”

Gwen was in a coma for 21 days.

When she awoke from the coma she couldn’t talk or walk and was immediately placed in physical therapy. Talking to Metta Fund from a nursing home in Oakland where she was transferred after being discharged from the hospital, Gwen continues resting in bed, watching television, and chatting with family members when she has enough energy. She talks with her sister every day and tries to keep positive about her two-month recuperation process, and hopes to visit her niece in Southern California when she feels healthy enough.

Has Gwen learned anything during this time? She says she only asks “Why me?” over and over again, as she works on new challenges that recovering from COVID has introduced, like learning how to walk again and working through a difficult physical therapy program. Her goal is to be able to walk up the thirteen steps she’ll need to in order to live safely in her apartment again. This change in mobility caught Gwen off guard. Prior to catching COVID-19, she was actively recruiting individuals for community-building activities and programming offered during the week for the Visitacion Valley community and neighboring Sunnydale. For now, however, it’s one step at a time.

Gwen shares that she feels isolated in the nursing home, but that she “finds strength in family, calling family, and my godchild.”

The CDC notes that “loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks affecting a significant number of people in the United States” and could “put them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions.” Topped with a worldwide pandemic, shelter in place mandates, and food security issues, social isolation in the aging community is now even more threatening to these vulnerable populations’ mental and physical health.

One thing that helps Gwen through her days is to think about the future. Right now she’s thinking about summer, 2021.

“I’ll be back in San Francisco,” she says, “and we’ll have a cure for the virus.”

All photos courtesy of: Sahara Marina Borja