“My mom is not a statistic of COVID-19. She has a name. And her name is Shineesta Emily Bushyhead Adams, and she is a warrior.” Photo of Shineesta Emily Bushyhead Adams and her son AJ courtesy of Tomi Bailey

Family holds onto hope while mother fights for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune (CATT)

On March 13, 2020, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reports four confirmed positives for COVID-19. Four short weeks later the data showed 2,263 confirmed positives, 510 currently hospitalized and 123 deaths from COVID-19, as of April 15.

As the number of confirmed positives and deaths increase daily across Oklahoma and the United States, there seems to be many who still hold to the belief, ‘this won’t happen to our family.’

And that mind set is the most frustrating for Tomi Bailey.

Tomi’s mother, Shineesta Emily Bushyhead Adams (Shine) has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for over two weeks, fighting for her life. Shine, 61 years old, is a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes living in Newkirk, Oklahoma, who, prior to becoming exposed to the coronavirus and being diagnosed with COVID-19, was in good health and active in her children and grandchildren’s daily lives.

In Oklahoma Native Americans are the second largest numbers of people being reported as positive for COVID-19 at 6.7 percent.

A pie chart posted by the Oklahoma Department of Health shows Native Americans representing 6.7 percent of positive COVID-19 cases. That's the second highest percentage of infections in the state.

“Stay home. Social distance … please. This is taking lives. It is separating families and people are fighting this alone. Nobody wants to be separated from their mothers, their fathers, and their children … their grandmas or their grandpas. The hardest thing is you are alone in this. If they die from this, they die alone and you are not able to give them a funeral. This is serious. It is NOT the flu,” Tomi said in response to being asked what was one message she would want to send.

How Shine came into contact with the virus is still somewhat of a mystery but the force and quickness the virus attacked Shine follows along with almost every account one reads about a person who becomes infected with COVID-19.

“My brother AJ came home on the 20th (March) and he wasn’t feeling very good so he had gone to the clinic here in Newkirk. They said he had a sinus infection and he asked if he could be around his mom and dad, and they said yes,” Tomi, said.

By March 24 Shine began to show symptoms. Fever, a cough, and said she had had a headache for three days. On March 25 Shine went to her primary doctor who tested her for the flu, it came back negative, and the diagnosis ended up being bronchitis. They gave her medicine and sent her home.

“For days my mom sheltered at home, exhibiting all the symptoms of COVID-19, getting worse with each passing day. The following Thursday she was admitted to the Ponca City Alliance Hospital and by the 28th of March she was placed on a ventilator and being sedated into a coma,” Tomi said.

Shine’s ventilator was set at 75 percent, and before long she seemed to be making progress so the doctors started to wean her down off of the ventilator. First 55 percent, then 50 percent and then 45 percent … everything looked promising.

“But then overnight she took a turn for the worse. Her body started filling up with fluid, her legs, arms, her lungs and it became hard for her to breath on her own again. They had to turn up her ventilator to 85 percent, which means my mom is only breathing 15 percent on her own,” Tomi said.

For Tomi and her family they are learning how little medical doctors really know about the coronavirus causing COVID-19.

“The hardest thing is everything is unknown. The doctors and the nurses can’t really predict what’s going to happen because they don’t really know what is happening next. This virus is affecting people differently and some people need oxygen and being placed into a coma, and some just need to be quarantined. My mom happened to be the one who needed to be on the ventilator and be sedated,” Tomi said.

Upon arriving to the hospital with severe symptoms, Shine was given a COVID-19 test. Within 48 hours the results were back … positive. The family was contacted from the hospital and was told everyone Shine had come into contact with needed to quarantine, and if any showed symptoms to come to the hospital for testing as soon as possible.

“AJ went ahead and went in because they told him he needed to go get tested. He goes in but they did not test him saying his symptoms were mild and to just go home and quarantine. So they are not testing everybody, they are only testing the severe ones,” Tomi said. “They should be testing those who aren’t showing major symptoms so we can figure out how to handle it from there instead of waiting until they are severe and have to be on the ventilator.”

The lack of testing has been a key issue in Oklahoma and many states, causing frustration among doctors and nurses across the country.

Tomi said it was possible AJ could have been a carrier, but without adequate testing no one knows, “You don’t have to necessarily be showing any symptoms to be a carrier, but he has been fever free and doing good now.”

It still feels like a bad nightmare for Shine’s family … a nightmare they wish they could wake up from. Her husband, Alton Adams stayed in isolation for 14 days, off work with no pay and no contact with any loved ones except over the phone while his wife, Shine laid in the hospital fighting to stay alive.

“He wants to hold her hand, to be there and kiss her on the forehead, instead he just had to stay home alone, cut off from all his family and his wife. There was nothing else he could do and that’s just the hardest part. We do a lot of calling. A lot of praying and keeping up with updates from the hospital everyday,” Tomi said.

Tomi’s last time seeing her mom was through her window as Shine sat in her car in her driveway, talking on the phone. The next day Shine was hospitalized.

“My mom drove herself to the hospital. She’s a strong woman. We had quarantined, me and my children, right when all this started happening. Before there was a positive case in Kay County we had been staying inside and not going anywhere. That’s the hardest part,” Tomi said.

Tomi said she is hanging on to the words her mother told her that day. Shine told her daughter she was not going to give up, she would fight and giving up was not an option for her.

“She said she is going to come home to us and I’m going to hold her to that, she’s going to come home,” Tomi said.

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Tomi said she believes more needs to be done to make people realize how serious COVID-19 is and a stay at home order needs to be enforced. Especially when she sees photos of parents taking their children to the parks in Ponca City spreading the virus, or photos of high school kids gathering together while her mother lies in a hospital bed fighting for her life.

“Makes me sick to see people out there doing that because my mom is alone. We are alone trying to find out how to take care of my mom from a distance. And to see people out there who treat this virus like it’s nothing or say it’s just like the flu, it’s not like the flu. This is killing people,” Tomi said. “There needs to be a lock down and get this under control. There are too many in the state of Oklahoma that have contacted the virus and something needs to be done.”

And Tomi hopes for many other families, there will be more testing available.

“We need more testing. We need more testing for our people and our clinics because without proper testing we are going to see our tribal numbers decrease. What about our elders and our children? We need to protect them. We need to stop the spread of this virus and in order to do that I do believe the stay at home needs to be implemented,” Tomi said. “My mom is not a statistic of COVID-19. She has a name. And her name is Shineesta Emily Bushyhead Adams, and she is a warrior.”

Update: After the story was written, The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune learned that Shine Adams was transferred to a Oklahoma City hospital from Ponca City on Friday, April 10, as she continues to fight for her life and recover from COVID-19.

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