August 2020 is a month full of celebrations for the family of Irene Oprecio. The mother of four who is an active member of Parañaque Philippines Stake just turned 50 while her eldest child Elisha turned 25 and her mother Gloria turned 73. These celebrations are made more meaningful by the fact that the family had a close call with COVID-19 four months ago.
The first case of local transmission of COVID-19 in the Philippines was reported on 7 March 2020. A few days later, to prevent the spread of the virus, Metro Manila was put under Enhanced Community Quarantine. People weren’t allowed to go outside unless they have Quarantine Pass. Non-essential business operations were temporarily suspended, masks were worn in public, and social distancing was practiced. The COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s lives, particularly the lives of the Oprecios, the family who all tested positive for COVID-19.
A Sudden Drastic Change
After the ECQ was announced, Irene Oprecio, her three children, Elisha, Trisha, and Clang, her 74-year old mother, her brother Gary Zabala, and two helpers never went outside due to fear of acquiring COVID-19.
“My husband, Bong Oprecio, went to work every day and was the only one who had a Quarantine Pass,” said Irene.
One day, around the last week of March, Bong complained of body aches, fever, and diarrhea. His wife, Irene, immediately advised him to go to a nearby hospital for a checkup and a COVID-19 test to make sure he is not infected with the virus.
“All his tests, including his chest X-ray and blood tests, were fine. We were just waiting for his COVID-19 test result which was due in five days,” explained Irene.
After coming back from the hospital, Bong isolated himself in another room dreading that he had contracted the virus. The result that came five days later confirmed his fears. He tested positive for COVID-19.
“My husband wept when he learned of the results, and it scared me,” recalled Irene. “But I couldn’t show my feelings because I needed to be strong for my husband and the rest of the family.”
Being Separated and Hospital Confinement
The family tried to get Bong hospitalized when his cough worsened, but all the hospitals in the area were full due to the quick rise in COVID cases. After some time, Irene started showing the same symptoms so she went to the hospital to have herself checked.
During her checkup, Irene received a frantic call from Bong who was having difficulty breathing. She explained the situation to the Emergency Section of the hospital, and they agreed to accommodate Bong. But since all hospital rooms were already occupied, Bong would have to stay in one of the Emergency isolation rooms.
“Bong drove to the hospital alone. I prayed hard that God would give my husband strength and protection while he was driving in that condition,” recalls Irene.
Upon arrival at the Emergency Room, Bong was immediately placed in the isolation area. Irene was prohibited to talk to him, let alone go near him.
“I didn’t know if I will ever see him alive again,” expressed Irene about her experience of last seeing Bong before he went to the isolation room. “I had a lot of questions in my mind.”
Although her physical examination results came out fine, Irene, like her husband, tested positive for COVID-19. She was admitted to the same hospital on April 10, 2020. The doctors found out that she had developed pneumonia. On the other hand, her husband’s lungs and liver were infected with the virus.
Due to the contagious nature of the new coronavirus and the lack of vaccine, Irene and Bong were confined in separate rooms away from each other. Family members and friends were prohibited from visiting them. They can only interact with their assigned doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel.
“I feel so alone, and I couldn’t stop crying. Then I received a call from my daughter, Sister Rolayne Oprecio, who was serving in San Pablo Mission,” Irene recalled of her first day of confinement in the hospital. “She calmed me down and said everything will be alright. Then she invited me to pray with her.”
Through the encouraging words of her daughter and the comfort that comes from the Spirit through prayer, Irene gained the courage to face what was going to be one of the hardest challenges for her and her family.
Not Losing Hope and Faith
The remaining members of the Oprecio household were also tested for COVID-19, and the results all came out as positive. Gloria, Irene’s diabetic mother who also had asthmatic and a weak heart, manifested COVID-19 symptoms. She developed pneumonia and was rushed to the Philippine General Hospital. Meanwhile, Irene’s three children, brother, and helpers were asymptomatic and were asked to quarantine at home for two weeks.
Irene did her best to keep her family intact while battling COVID-19 herself. She fought not only courageously but also happily. While confined in the hospital, she would do Facebook Live broadcasts to update people about her condition. She also exercised and danced in her room to cheer herself up. Her optimistic attitude worked! On April 29, 2020, after her 3rd swab test came out negative, Irene was discharged from the hospital. Her other family members – her mother and her husband – also tested negative from COVID-19 and recovered from pneumonia.
What the Oprecio family initially thought was a dark time became a miraculous experience that brought them closer to each other and to God. As with all good things, this miracle, however, did not happen overnight.
The Making of a Miracle
The Oprecio family had angels – earthly and heavenly – watching over them. Irene and Bong’s colleagues from work brought food and vitamins to their home in their absence. Their neighbors took care of their children. Friends and Church leaders sent fruits and bags of groceries to both hospitals. The doctors, nurses, and medical personnel were equally commendable for providing top-notch care as they fought the virus. These are the people who put their lives at risk to bless the Oprecio family and others. Through the mercy and help of God, they made the miracle happened.
Now, the Oprecio family is not only COVID-free, but they have also changed in remarkable ways.
“Because of this experience our love for each other increased. Our children became more responsible. We understood better the importance of praying together as a family,” said Irene. “More importantly, the foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ became stronger and deeper.”
“My advice to those who got infected with the COVID-19 virus is to stay strong, learn to fight, and keep your faith in God,” said Irene, now fully recovered from COVID-19. “But, also be ready to accept God’s will. I am just grateful that our entire family overcame the virus and we are now able to celebrate not just our birthdays but the gift of life,” added Irene about the new lease on life they al received.
As this writing, there are 131,367 COVID-19 recoveries out of the 189,601 confirmed cases in the Philippines. Thankfully, three members of the Oprecio family are part of these hopeful statistics. ◼︎