A health-care aide at a retirement home east of Edmonton is being remembered by friends and family as a loving mother and devoted friend who was passionate about her job before losing her life to COVID-19.
Rose Vandelannoite, 63, was taken off life-support Sunday night after fighting a month-long battle with COVID-19.
“I’m just trying to be strong. I don’t think it’s set in yet,” Kelsey Torkelson, Vandelannoite’s 26-year-old daughter, told Global News on Monday night. “She was actually looking to retire right away… and just enjoy life.
“She wanted to just start living life and unfortunately, that just didn’t happen for her.”
Torkelson, who also works in the health-care sector, was quick to add that her mother enjoyed her career in health care immensely, a field she worked in for over 45 years.
“She cared about everyone,” she said of her mother.
“That was her life. Her life was just helping people.”
According to Torkelson, her asthmatic and diabetic mother sought medical attention on Dec. 9, and was admitted to hospital in Edmonton a day later.
“She was worried for sure,” Vandelannoite’s daughter said.
“(She said) ‘pray for me’ (when she was admitted to hospital),” Torkelson recalled. “‘I don’t think I’m going to make it out of here.'”
Torkelson said because her mother had to initially be isolated in hospital, they tried to speak by phone or video conference calls but it was hard to hear her because she had difficulty speaking and the hospital COVID-19 ward is a loud area.
“When I was finally able to see my mom, I was shocked with the amount of people that were severely sick with COVID(-19),” she said. “Nurses have told me that the youngest patient they have on a ventilator… is 35 years old.
“Anyone can become severely ill. Families have had to say goodbye through FaceTime calls, not being able to hug or kiss their loved ones goodbye.
“My mom had to be alone during a very scary moment in her life. I wasn’t able to be there to hold her hand and reassure her that everything would be OK. That is still something that is hard to come to terms with.”
Ann Waller is the president and business manager of LiUNA Local 3000, the health-care workers’ union that Vandelannoite was a part of. She said she got to know Vandelannoite over a decade ago when she became a chief steward for the union at Summerwood Village Retirement Home in Sherwood Park, Alta., and they became friends after taking part in various union-related events and seminars together.
“She was just a warm, loving person, but she was tenacious,” Waller said. “She fought her for the workers she represented.
“She had strong beliefs and strong morals and loved her children more than anything.”
Waller said there have been a number of union members who have now contracted COVID-19 at sites across the country.
“This was something that I dreaded from the time that the pandemic had been declared,” she said. “When Rose tested positive, just like when any other member tests positive, my heart sinks.
“We reach out. We offer to help to the families to see if there’s something we can do and we pray for a positive outcome.”
She said she reached out to Torkelson who then began to updating her on how her mother was doing as the illness progressed.
“It’s unfortunate that her life was cut short because she went to work to care for others,” Waller said. “(It’s) sad to think that she’s not going to enjoy those things in life that the rest of us are looking forward to.
“She’s not going to get to see her children marry.”
Waller said she and other union members felt “kind of dazed” when told of Vandelannoite’s death on Sunday night.
“We knew it was going to happen,” she said.
“We were praying for a miracle… against all odds — but that didn’t happen.”
Torkelson posted about her mother’s death on social media. She said it’s important for people to understand how dangerous COVID-19 can be.
“I just want people to know that this virus is very serious,” she said of the novel coronavirus. “My mum is one of the unfortunate ones — anyone’s life can be cut short.
“If I can change one person’s perspective on this virus, then that’s what I’m hoping to achieve. My mum’s story deserves to be heard.”
Waller said she and her union have offered support for Torkelson and her brother, who also lost their father to cancer three years ago. A fundraiser has also been started to help Vandelannoite’s children with immediate and future needs.
“It’s greatly appreciated by myself and my family,” Torkelson said “For me, it’s not really about the money… (but rather) getting the word out there that my mum is a health-care hero.
“That’s what it’s about to me.”
Torkelson said she’ll remember her mother for her “beaming smile.”
“Whenever she walked in a room, it was contagious,” she said.
“She was a caring person and she loved the residents she cared for at Summerwood,” Waller said, adding that she had a knack for making people laugh. “They called her Summerwood Rose.
“She was a special person. She was a fighter. She spoke her mind. She didn’t mince words… One of the most caring people I know.”
Waller said it’s important for people to remember that people who die of COVID-19 are not just a statistic.
“Health-care workers are not a disposable commodity,” she said. “They’re people. They have families that love them. They have friends that care for them. They’re not just a number.
“Every single one of those numbers is a family that’s mourning.”
On Tuesday, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said his group and affiliated unions will be pushing harder for isolation pay. He said they will also be calling on the Alberta government to require employers to give staff members at least 10 days of sick leave.
“We have said goodbye to far too many of our friends and colleagues who have died as a result of workplace exposure to COVID(-19), and we know that more will die in the coming weeks,” he said.
“These deaths are doubly tragic because many of them could have been and should have been avoided if workers simply could afford to stay home if they needed to.”
Torkelson said she wants people who feel frustrated and inconvenienced by the COVID-19 pandemic to remember how important it is to take the disease seriously.
“Just wear your mask,” she said. “No one wants to wear it. No one is happy about wearing their mask. No one is happy about staying home. No one is enjoying this time of life we have to go through, but… we have to do it.
“People are dying. People are losing their lives. You have to do what you have to do. Just wear the mask.”
On Monday afternoon, Alberta Health reported that there have been 26 more deaths linked to COVID-19 in the province. A total of 1,307 people in the province have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic hit Alberta in March.
–With a file from The Canadian Press
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