Life was looking up for TeQuilla Parker.
After years of believing she could not have children, Parker became pregnant and had a daughter in her late 30s. She had recently purchased a home. And she was engaged to be married, though she hadn't picked a date for her wedding.
She was at a high point in her life, said LaShondria Parker, her older sister. All the things she hoped and worked for were finally becoming real.
Even after she fell unexpectedly and critically ill with the coronavirus, TeQuilla Parker maintained an upbeat attitude. Her mother, Debra Honore, received a note on a piece of paper written just before she was placed on a ventilator.
"She wrote on there she was coming out alive," her mother said. "So that’s what gave me hope."
But in early October, weeks from her 40th birthday, Parker died from COVID-19 after spending two months at Baton Rouge General. She leaves behind a fiancé and a 3-year-old daughter.
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"I just couldn’t believe she was not going to make it," Honore said. "She didn’t think the Lord would allow her to have a child and then leave the child."
Parker was a nurse who lived in Baton Rouge and worked at Villa Feliciana Medical Complex, an acute-care facility in Jackson. She cared for patients and cooked for coworkers, who she considered family. Her mother said she was known for her beautiful smile.
"She was sweet to everybody," Honore said. "Everybody just adored her. If she ever got angry, I wouldn’t even know, because she never expressed anger."
Parker was raised in Pride, the middle child between her elder sister and little brother. A quiet, bright girl, Parker finished third in her high school class and left for Southern University to become a teacher.
However, Parker realized teaching wasn't quite what she bargained for when, right before graduation, she was required to spend time in a classroom setting. Instead, she got her nursing degree at Delta College, working in medical records at Earl K. Long Medical Center while she took classes.
After she graduated, she worked at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, caring for inmates.
"She just wanted to help the people who needed help the most," her sister said. "She felt those people sometimes get looked over, and she wanted to be the person to help."
This attitude extended beyond her professional career. When her grandmother died in 2016, Parker took on the role of hostess and event organizer, bringing the family together for parties and meals that she prepared herself.
"She was actually the good person that you hear a lot about," her sister said. "She ... held everybody together. She was our glue."
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LaShondria Parker said her little sister, only a year younger than her, never got sick and rarely took time off from her job — unless it was to care for her daughter, who still experienced complications after a premature birth.
TeQuilla Parker learned she was sick when her fiancé received a notice that he had been exposed to the virus at his workplace. He tested negative; she didn't.
At first, she had no symptoms. Days later, she developed a fever, and shortly after that, she fainted in her kitchen and was taken to the hospital.
Even when Parker was hospitalized, family said doctors told them initially they had little to fear because she was young. She had good days at the hospital where she was conscious and others where she began to get worse.
Honore said she was a wreck for the two months her daughter was hospitalized, calling her daughter's caretakers at all hours of the day and night.
"Her lungs were very scarred," Honore said. "She kept on getting bacterial infections. Every day, they tell me she’s critically ill."
Parker was close to going off the ventilator when her condition worsened, and a few weeks later, on Oct. 6, she died. The funeral was held last week. Her family is at a loss for how to pull their lives back together now that their glue is gone.
"This virus is still here. I know that some people think that since we’re in Phase 3 that things should be a little lax, but it’s definitely real and it’s definitely still here," LaShondria Parker said. "I lost my sister to the virus, and I don’t want to lose anybody else."
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Now motherless, Kaiden Boyd, "knows something is missing," her aunt said. She clings to her grandmother and aunt more than before, keeping them close.
"I try to spend as much time as I can with her because I want her to just feel loved," Honore said. "It’s the only part of my daughter I have left."