“Girl, we gonna beat this thing. We gonna beat it!”
Kimberle Jones, 59, couldn’t refuse her daughter’s request to sing a song. She admits she’s no singer but when her daughter, Erica Thompson, 37, who had just tested positive for COVID-19, asked that she sing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” she couldn’t say no.
“I just wanted to cheer her up because I honestly thought my daughter was going to beat that virus. I really did.”
Unfortunately, Thompson, the mother of three boys, didn’t beat the deadly virus.
In April, the New York Times quoted experts who said, “For each person who dies of COVID-19, there are at least nine newly bereaved” individuals left behind.
On July 4, Jones joined the ranks of the almost six million families in the U.S., who are grieving the loss of a loved one due to the pandemic.
Jones shared her daughter’s tragic story with the St. Louis American in hope that it may inspire people to get vaccinated. Jones, who was vaccinated in March, urged her daughter to do the same. She recalled her daughter’s resistance.
“My daughter said science hadn’t even found better treatments for illnesses like diabetes or cancer. Yet, they came out with a vaccine for COVID so fast. She honestly believed the virus was man-made to eliminate the Black race.”
Jones defined her daughter as “unique, crafty, beautiful and full of life.” Both enjoyed interior decorating.
“She was my shopping buddy,” Jones said. “We shopped together all the time and Erica would take me to pick up items I’d bought from Craigslist. She loved buying things for her house.”
Both women lived in the St. Ann area. Thompson had struggled with asthma for decades and had several scary bouts earlier this year, her mother said. It was not unusual for her daughter to wind up in an emergency room with breathing problems.
When Thompson called her mother after Mother’s Day, saying she had chest pains, Jones didn’t panic. She did, however, when Thompson called back from St. Mary’s to say she tested positive for COVID-19 and was being admitted.
Hospital administrators called Jones, asking that she come to the hospital. They needed her to convince her daughter to go on a ventilator. Doctors told Jones her daughter would die if she wasn’t intubated.
"She cried and cried and said, 'I want to live,'" Jones recalled. “She didn’t want to be intubated. She didn’t believe she’d come out of it.”
Thompson eventually decided she’d go on the ventilator. It was just before she was sedated that the daughter asked her mom to sing Michael Jackson’s song to her.
It was the last time Jones felt she truly communicated with her daughter. Thompson never came off the ventilator. With failing lungs, she was transferred to St. Louis University hospital. Doctors put her on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine because her lungs were not healing.
"She developed a lot of infections, blood clots, her kidneys started shutting down, her skin got real dark. It was not a pretty sight. It was just heartbreaking to watch her body not respond to any medication. It was like my daughter wasn't even her," Jones said.
Thompson was hospitalized for 50 days. Doctors called Jones and told her her daughter was “slipping away.” They asked that she gather the family. Jones did and one-by-one each family member went to Thompson’s hospital room to kiss her and say goodbye.
While most Americans were celebrating Independence Day, Thompson passed away that afternoon.
Since her daughter’s death, Jones has been on a crusade. She said she’s speaking out in her daughter’s name.
“I know my daughter regrets not getting vaccinated and if she was able to speak, she would be encouraging others,” she said.
Since Thompson’s death, her husband and age-eligible children have gotten their vaccinations as well as other family members, Jones said.
On July 27, as a guest on ABC News, Thompson made a public plea to the unvaccinated.
"Don't be selfish. Get vaccinated because it's not only showing you love yourself, it shows you love your community...your neighbors, your employers, your co-workers,” she said.
"That's my prayer. I want everybody to get vaccinated. Especially African Americans. Use this as a way to help others."
Jones said she understands the fears of people, especially Black people, who may mistrust the medical system. She counters those fears with her real life consequences.
“This virus has no respect for color, race, age, ZIP codes or how much money you do or don’t have. I know you want to get back to normal but, for me, my world will never be normal again. My world is forever changed because of this,” she said.
“You don’t want to be where I am. Erica won’t see her kids graduate from high school or go off to college. I urge you to think about your children and grandchildren, the people you shop, work, and go to church with.
“I urge you to put yourself aside and think about others.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.