Fiji student son tells of his pregnant nurse mum’s losing struggle with covid

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Nurse Suliana Bulavakarua
Fiji nurse Suliana Bulavakarua ... dedicated to saving lives but lost her own from covid-19. Image: Wansolwara

By Josefa Babitu in Suva

The dream of putting a smile on his mother’s face on his graduation day from university has become one that will never happen for Gabriel Gade, after his mother succumbed to the coronavirus that has killed dozens of people in Fiji.

“My ultimate dream was to make her proud of all her sacrifices, battles in life and the love she gave me over the last 21 years of my life,” he told Asia Pacific Report.

“My mother had to work all the time to pay off the mortgage, and I could tell that she was exhausted most of the time, but I think it was her love for her children that kept her going every day.

His mother, Suliana Bulavakarua, worked as a registered nurse at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital (CWMH), the largest healthcare facility in the country, where his family believes she contracted the virus while pregnant.

After she tested positive for covid-19 on July 16, she was transported to the Covid-care facility in Suva, leaving behind Gade and his sister at home as their father was working outside of the mainland.

Her children also tested positive for the virus but have recovered. Gade was vaccinated with the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine while his mother was awaiting the Moderna vaccine that was to be administered to pregnant women.

Her daughter was not eligible for the vaccine as she was under the age of 18.

Her condition worsened
Her condition got worse on July 18 and was advised by attending physicians to deliver her baby by caesarean section.

The 44-year-old gave life to a baby girl but the battle with covid-19 was so intense that it soon ended her life.

“It was late at night on Wednesday [July 21] when my phone rang and I did not answer because it was a new number and it was late as well. However, little did I know the hospital was calling me to inform us of our mother’s passing,” says Gade.

Suliana Bulavakarua and family
Gabriel Gade with his mother, Suliana Bulavakarua, and sister at the time of his 21st birthday last year. Image: Wansolwara

“A team from the hospital knocked on our doors on Thursday morning and relayed the news that broke my sister and I into tears. The world suddenly stopped as I lost the one person I owe everything to.

“My mind ran wild but hours later I had to compose myself for my family, especially my sisters who will now grow up without a mother.

The Lau native said the teachings of his mother was something he would hold dear to his heart and would use in the upbringing of his sisters.

“My mother taught me to be generous, loving and to care for people that needed my help.

“I remember a night where I would do my assignments on my study table in our living room and during her days off she would sit on the couch and then she would try and make small talk.

“My mom and I had this relationship where she would always be pressed to do things like for me to graduate. My mom was always supportive of my endeavours.

“I love you so much mom.”

The “fallen hero” is survived by her husband and three children.

Healthcare workers remember fallen hero
The loss of Bulavakarua was not only for the family but for healthcare workers around the country as they took to social media to express their feelings.

A nurse posted on Facebook that Bulavakarua was the talk of the operation room at the hospital she worked in as they all reminisced her dedication to saving lives in the country.

Health Secretary Dr James Fong, in a televised address, announced the passing of the healthcare worker and said she was one of the many who risked their lives to save people from the deadly delta variant of the virus.

“This current crisis is demonstrating the essential, tireless, innovative and too-often undervalued role of health workers and our frontline colleagues in ensuring strong, resilient health systems for everyone, everywhere,” he said.

“They work long hours, sacrifice time with their families, and endure the stresses that this pandemic places upon them as individuals, professionals, and upon the entire health system.

“Delivering health services in an environment of constraint resources will often mean providing access to life saving care at the expense of comfort.

Meanwhile, healthcare workers are currently looking after 17,937 people living with the deadly virus in the nation where 195 people have died.

Fiji’s covid-19 case count stands at 24,424 since March 2020 with 6191 recoveries.

Josefa Babitu is a final-year student journalist at the University of the South Pacific (USP). He is also the current student editor for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication. He is a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.

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