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'It was very scary': Family of teachers with 7 children contends with COVID-19

Last Updated Apr 8, 2021 at 5:44 pm EDT

Seven children, two parents, five COVID-19 cases.

A pair of York Region educators are sharing how the illness swept through their family in March, sending a previously healthy adult to the hospital, barely able to breathe.

“We are seeing, especially with the variants, that we don’t know how it’s going to hit,” says Samuel Soroka. He and his wife Elana have seven children between the ages of five months and 16 years.

The Soroka family’s COVID-19 ordeal started in early March, when their five-month-old son had a fever in the middle of the night. The entire family stayed home from school and the adults took the baby to be tested for the virus. When his test came back negative, the family was relieved, but that was just the beginning of their unpredictable stint with the illness.

The next week, their 16- and 12-year-old sons showed symptoms of the virus. Again they got tested, and were negative.

Three days later, on a Sunday night, the family was notified that one of their daughters may have been exposed to COVID-19 at school. By that point, Samuel was also feeling unwell. The next day, he and his two daughters, aged 11 and 15, went for tests. His came back negative, while his daughters’ were positive.

“We did try at the beginning to isolate as much as possible, but it just very quickly became impossible,” says Elana. Family members with symptoms were testing negative, while ones without symptoms were testing positive.

Forty-eight hours after the family had been notified of their daughter’s exposure, Elana herself was feeling sick. She and their eight-year-old son were tested and found to be positive for COVID-19.

“I didn’t know what was going to be,” she says. Still breastfeeding her baby, she decided to buy formula, just in case.

“We were preparing for the Passover holiday and I was alternating between cleaning and resting,” she explains, adding that because of the illnesses, the family’s domestic worker couldn’t come into the house.

Meanwhile, Samuel still had a head cold and fatigue. He was tested again and found out on the Friday that he indeed had COVID-19.

As the family tried to care for each other in quarantine, 39-year-old Elana’s condition was getting worse.

“Very quickly, it just went from working pretty much normal and resting a little bit, to resting a lot and barely being able to get out of bed, even to just come to the table for meals,” she says. “Over the holiday it got to the point where I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow, or get out of bed for any period of time.

“If I did get out of bed I would be coughing and gasping for air. I said to my husband, I think there’s something really wrong.”

A week after testing positive, Elana called her father, who is a doctor. He advised she go to the hospital for tests. She and Samuel packed up the baby and drove to Mount Sinai, where they thought Elana would stay for a few hours and be sent home. Instead, she was hospitalized.

“We’re both young healthy people, I never would have expected this at all,” she says.

Samuel says he had hoped to stay with his wife while she was being examined, but he was barred due to safety protocols.

“It felt horrible as a husband to have to leave my wife, who was in such a weak state, at the door basically getting wheeled into Emergency by security,” he recalls.

Instead he went home, and cared for the rest of the family while doctors treated Elana.

At Mount Sinai, Elana says she had two intravenous drips because she was so dehydrated. She also says her health team gave her steroids, and a nose tube to help her body take in oxygen.

“I ended up staying in the hospital for five days,” she says.

Speaking to CityNews just three days after being discharged, she says she is only now beginning to come to terms with what happened to her as an otherwise healthy adult.

“Things were so bad I couldn’t put two thoughts together at all,” she explains. “It was very scary, it came very fast, and it still seems very surreal that I’m still sick, that I still can’t get out of bed for too long at a time.”

Samuel is staying home from work and continues to be the primary caregiver while Elana recuperates. She estimates she’s still at just 10 to 20 per cent of her usual strength.

“It’s going to be a long haul,” she says.

The kids are also still quarantining. Samuel says everyone needs to test negative and have no symptoms for 14 days before they can leave the house.

As the Soroka family recovers and tries to make sense of their ordeal, Samuel says he is reminded of a saying in Judaism that means “everyone is responsible, one for the other.”

“We really just have a responsibility to do as much as we can for each other, whether it’s mask wearing, distancing, whatever the rules are, to just try to do what we can to keep each other safe,” he says. “You never know how your actions are going to impact someone else.”