NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – In the darkest moments of their battle with COVID-19, Diana Solis and her husband, David, struggled to even move.
The virus had rendered them so powerless on the second floor of their Cape Cod-style home that Diana Solis said she sometimes wondered if they were going to make it.
Before they settled in to ride out their two-week home quarantine, Solis, the president of the Board of Education, called the one person nearby that she knew she could count on.
She called fellow board member Patricia Sadowski.
Word eventually reached the other board members and soon, the eight of them were jumping in over the next several days to deliver home-cooked meals, drop off bags of fresh fruit and check in on the family.
The care and kindness of the other board members – Sadowski, vice president Dale Caldwell, Benito “Benny” Ortiz, Emra Seawood, Jennifer Sevilla, Jennifer Shukaitis, Edward Spencer and Patricia Varela – proved to be a godsend for the Solises, who needed all the help they could get to help look after their four children and four dogs. (They had two dogs, but one gave birth to puppies right before the quarantine).
The Solises are continuing to return to full strength after beating the virus that has infected 153,000 and killed 11,000 New Jerseyans since March.
Diana was back Tuesday presiding over the Board of Education meeting where she was re-elected as president by the same people who were there for her during her hour – or two weeks – of need.
“People like Pat, people like Benny, who are in that population of people who are high risk because of their age and because of medical conditions have literally put their lives at risk to ensure that my family was safe and my family was going to be OK,” Solis said.
“And for someone to do that for you. I mean, these are my fellow board members. They're more like family to me, honestly. I told them I said, ‘Listen, my kids, they really like to eat a lot of fresh fruit.’ And they literally just suited up and went out there even though they're in an at-risk population. For them to do that for me and for my family, those are gestures that I would never be able to repay. Those are things that I could never vocalize enough, the amount of gratitude in my heart for their kind gestures.”
David was the first to get sick, but Diana followed a few days later when she started to get migraine headaches and body aches.
Diana sent word to her friends and family through social media that they had tested positive for COVID-19 and that they were going into self-quarantine.
She was worried about her husband, her children and the household.
“And meanwhile, literally my husband and I didn't even know when day was day and night was night,” she said. “We were just immobilized. We couldn't even open our eyes up. The muscles in my eyes hurt. It was extreme pain.”
David had become so dehydrated that a nurse suited up from head to toe in personal protection equipment came into their home to hook him up to an IV.
“I mean, when I'm telling you we were both really, really ill, I mean, it felt like the end was near,” Diana said.
If there was one small silver lining, it was that the Solises didn’t have the respiratory issues that often accompany the virus. Since they didn’t need to go to a hospital to be hooked up to a ventilator, that meant they could stay home and fight it off.
While they were upstairs fighting for their lives, the board members stepped in to help as much as they could.
Sadowski’s husband, Joe, cooked a tray of baked ziti. Ortiz ordered in Popeye’s. Sevilla had pizza delivered to the house.
And it wasn’t just the Board of Education members. The Solises received calls from members of the administration, including Superintendent Aubrey Johnson, Assistant Superintendent Keira Scussa, Business Administrator and Secretary Richard Jannarone and Director of Facility Design and Construction Frank LoDolce.
Solis has since returned to work. Her work as a social services technician for Middlesex County, helping the homeless population, is more crucial than ever during this health crisis.
But she will never forget how her fellow board members helped out. She said their uncommonly close bond allows them to work well together – even if getting nine people to agree on something can sometimes be a challenge.
“There’s always room for improvement and we’re working on it,” Solis said. “But I think we’re on the right track and the reason why we’re working so well and we’re progressing is because one, the board. The board is on top of everything. When the administrative staff sees that you have a board that can work so cohesively and get things done. Even when we disagree on certain items, we’re still able to move along and work through it. When they see that, I think that’s really an example to them as well.”